‘Arctic Blast’ of Leaky Water Halts Spacewalk by NASA Astronauts


A spacewalk by two NASA astronauts at the International Space Station ended almost as soon as it began on Monday morning when water started squirting from one of the spacesuits into the airlock.

“There’s water everywhere,” Tracy Dyson, one of the astronauts, reported to mission control.

That was a couple of minutes after she and Mike Barratt, the other astronaut taking part in spacewalk, had switched their spacesuits to battery power, which marked the start of the spacewalk at 8:46 a.m. Eastern time.

“I got an arctic blast all over my visor,” Ms. Dyson reported.

She wiped away a layer of ice, allowing her to see that ice crystals were coming from a service-and-cooling umbilical unit that connected to her spacesuit. The connections provide power, oxygen and water while astronauts are in the airlock. The leak started when Ms. Dyson disconnected the unit.

“I could see the ice crystals flowing out there,” Ms. Dyson said. “Just like a snow cone machine, there was ice forming at that port.”

Space station controllers in Houston then called off the spacewalk. NASA said the astronauts were never in any danger.

The shortened spacewalk was the latest in a series of glitches that NASA has experienced this month. Other issues have included an earlier postponed spacewalk and delays in returning a pair of astronauts to Earth aboard a Boeing space capsule, known as Starliner, which is on its first trip to the space station with astronauts aboard.

On Monday, the leak stopped when Ms. Dyson reconnected the umbilical unit. She and Mr. Barratt were back inside the space station and out of their spacesuits 45 minutes later. Even though they never floated outside the hatch, they were still credited with a 31-minute spacewalk — the length of time from when they turned on the internal batteries to when the airlock was repressurized.

They had been scheduled to spend six and a half hours outside. Their main tasks were to remove a malfunctioning electronics box from a communications antenna and to collect samples from the exterior of the space station as part of scientific research to see if microorganisms can survive the harsh, airless, radiation-scarred environment of space.

For Ms. Dyson, it was the second interrupted spacewalk this month. She and Matthew Dominick, another NASA astronaut currently on the space station, had been scheduled to perform the spacewalk on June 13, but that was postponed when Mr. Dominick reported a “spacesuit discomfort issue.”

NASA did not provide additional details on what occurred, and Mr. Barratt then replaced Mr. Dominick, who was already scheduled to take part on a subsequent spacewalk. “We had a suit ready for him,” Dana Weigel, the space station program manager at NASA, said at a news conference on June 18. “We decided it just made sense to go ahead and use Tracy and Mike.”

NASA has another spacewalk scheduled for July 2, but those plans may now change.

The spacesuits that NASA astronauts currently wear for spacewalks are more than four decades old, dating back to the beginning of the space shuttle era. The space agency has hired the company Collins Aerospace to provide replacements for use on the space station. (Another company, Axiom Space, is developing spacesuits for NASA astronauts to wear when they walk on the moon.)

Malfunctions of the current spacesuits are rare but potentially dire. In 2013, Luca Parmitano, a European Space Agency astronaut, nearly drowned when water collected in his helmet after a fan pump became blocked. Monday’s problem involved a different part of the spacesuit.

NASA managers are also still working to understand problems experienced by Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. Carrying two NASA astronauts, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, Starliner successfully docked at the space station on June 6. The mission is part of a shakedown flight of the spacecraft, and Starliner’s propulsion system has suffered five leaks of helium, which is used to push propellant to the thrusters. Several of the thrusters also malfunctioned as Starliner made its docking approach.

Boeing and NASA engineers believe that the helium leaks are small and will not pose a serious problem during the return trip. All but one of the thrusters now appear to be working properly after short test firings a week ago.

However, NASA managers also decided to spend more time reviewing the data, and have pushed back the return until a date in July at the earliest. The Starliner spacecraft is approved for 45 days of docking at the space station, or until July 21. The mission had been originally scheduled to last just eight days, and Mr. Wilmore and Ms. Williams have now been on the space station for 18 days.



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