An equipment water leak shortened Friday’s spacewalk by two U.S. astronauts at the International Space Station.
Spacewalkers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer got out the hatch late because of the trouble. It was a milestone moment, nonetheless: the 200th spacewalk in the construction and maintenance of the orbiting outpost.
During preparations earlier in the morning, a small amount of water leaked from the connection point between an umbilical hose and Fischer’s suit. The hose is one of two that provide water, oxygen, power, cooling and communications for astronauts before they float outside.
The leaky hose had to be disconnected before the spacewalk could begin. The astronauts ended up sharing Whitson’s hose while they waited, which reduced their suit battery power and readjusted the . As a result, Mission Control cut the spacewalk from the intended 6 ½ hours to four hours even before it began, and ditched all but the most important chore — replacing an electronics box.
“Everyone here in Mission Control wants to thank you for the heroic work that you all have done to get us to this point,” Mission Control radioed as the spacewalk finally got underway.
They went straight to work removing a faulty unit that supplies electricity and data to science experiments on the outside of the space station. The box — more than three metres long — was a bit unwieldy.
The spacewalk was supposed to take place in early April, but was put on hold because of delays in launching the replacement box. That new component finally arrived late last month aboard Orbital ATK’s commercial cargo ship, the S.S. John Glenn, named after the first American to orbit Earth.
‘Oh my gosh, this is beautiful’
It was the first spacewalk for Fischer, who arrived at the station less than a month ago. Whitson, on the other hand, has performed more spacewalks than any other woman. This was her ninth.
“Oh my gosh, this is beautiful,” Fischer said as he worked 400 kilometres above the planet.
“Isn’t it,” Whitson agreed, chuckling.
Mission Control stressed throughout the morning that Fischer’s suit was fine and that the leak was confined to the umbilical hose. NASA is especially wary of leaks involving spacesuits. In 2013, an Italian astronaut almost drowned during a spacewalk when water from the suit’s cooling system flooded his helmet.
Left off Friday’s to-do list because of this latest water leak: installing a micrometeorite shield on a docking port for future commercial crew capsules; plugging in a new high-definition camera and wireless antennas; and adding a special data connector to the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a high-profile particle physics instrument still working but in need of future repairs.
Astronauts kicked off space station construction in orbit in 1998. The 200 mark includes Russian spacewalks as well as U.S.