NASA completed a flight readiness review in October, and is “GO” to resume routine spacewalks outside of the International Space Station. The first of three planned spacewalks is targeted to begin around mid-November to continue the work to install roll out solar arrays, called iROSA.
The review marks the completion of an investigation into the cause of a thin layer of moisture being discovered in March inside ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer’s helmet after station airlock re-pressurization following a nearly seven-hour spacewalk. Mauer was conducting a spacewalk focused on preparation of new solar array installation outside the microgravity laboratory.
Following the successful spacewalk, the space station crew expedited Maurer’s helmet removal and then gathered data in coordination with ground support teams at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The agency identified the event as a close-call and immediately declared a stop to all future planned U.S. Operating Segment spacewalks pending an investigation into the cause. NASA returned to Earth water samples and some suit hardware with Soyuz 65S and NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission, as well as returned the spacesuit as part of the agency’s SpaceX CRS-25 mission 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 team confirmed there were no hardware failures within the suit. The cause for the water in the helmet was likely due to integrated system performance where several variables such as crew exertion and crew cooling settings led to the generation of comparatively larger than normal amounts of condensation within the system.
Based on the findings, the team has updated operational procedures and developed new mitigation hardware to minimize scenarios where integrated performance results in water accumulation, while absorbing any water that does appear. These measures will help contain any liquid in the helmet to continue to keep 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.”
Based on the results of the investigation, the additional operational procedures, and mitigation hardware, the NASA management team concurred and approved return to normal operations.
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