Spacewalks were suspended since March 23 after a thin layer of moisture was discovered inside an astronaut’s helmet.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is ready to resume spacewalks outside of the International Space Station post completion of a flight readiness review.
The American space agency targets the first of three planned spacewalks to begin around mid-November to continue the work to install roll out solar arrays, also known as iROSA, NASA said in a blog. Spacewalks were suspended since March 23 after a thin layer of moisture was discovered inside the European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer’s helmet. NASA later declared the event as a “close-call” and immediately halted all future planned spacewalks until the case was investigated.
Maurer’s spacesuit was then returned to Earth, along with water samples, for detailed analysis. “During the investigation, the space station team completed a detailed test, teardown, and evaluation of the water samples and suit hardware to determine what led to the observed water, which was more than normal, in the helmet,” the blog further stated. The analysis results showed that there were no hardware failures with the suit and it is likely that other “variables such as crew exertion and crew cooling settings led to the generation of comparatively larger than normal amounts of condensation within the system.”
Along with updating operational procedures, NASA teams developed new mitigation hardware to minimize such scenarios of condensation leading to water accumulation, while also absorbing any water that does appear; all with the view to keep the crew safe.
“Crew safety is the top priority of NASA and our international partners,” said Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate. “I’m proud of the space station and ground teams’ work to keep our crew members safe, for taking the time necessary to close out the investigation, and for continually findings ways to mitigate risks in human spaceflight.”
Return to normal operations have been approved by the NASA management team based on the results of the investigation, the additional operational procedures and mitigation hardware.
Maurer’s was not the first incident where astronauts found water inside their helmets while performing maintenance work outside the ISS. In 2013, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano reported water floating behind his head inside his spacesuit helmet, after which the spacewalk was wrapped up early. Two years later, another NASA astronaut Terry Virts, who wore the same spacesuit as Parmitano, also noticed that his helmet had free-floating droplets of water.
According to NASA’s management and development of spacesuits audit report in 2017, the spacesuits NASA astronauts currently use on ISS were developed more than 40 years ago and have far outlasted their original 15-year design life! However, the space agency has earlier this year partnered with two private U.S. companies, Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace, to develop next-generation spacesuits that will be worn by astronauts for future journeys to the Moon and possibly Mars, and are expected to be ready no earlier than 2025.