Spacesuit flooding problem makes repairs to ISS cooling system risky, endangering experiments
HOUSTON -- Repairs required to fix a failed cooling loop on the International Space Station might not come to fruition since NASA engineers still don’t know why the agency's spacesuits sometimes fill up with water, a source privy to NASA operations told TV20 News.
Astronaut Luca Parmitano during the July 16, 2013 spacewalk when his suit helmet began filling with water. Photo courtesy NASA.
Without a timely fix to the failed loop, the source said, there would be a “significant loss” to the scientific payload—read: experiments—on the station.
Fixing the cooling loop requires 3 to 5 spacewalks (also known as Extravehicular Activity, or EVAs) and NASA engineers still have been unable to determine why a spacesuit helmet began filling with water during a July spacewalk that almost drowned astronaut Luca Parmitano, the source said.
“We know what happened with the suit. We just don’t know why it happened,” said the source.
Ironically, the flooding problem stems from the spacesuit's cooling system.
Even if NASA mission managers decide to schedule a spacewalk, the flooding problem may recur, preventing the repairs.
Tuesday night, a cooling loop on the ISS started reading temperatures well below normal and automatically shut down. While the failed loop is one of two on the station, running only one cooling loop for a prolonged period would lead to a loss of cooling for the station’s science experiments.
The source said NASA currently has three spacesuits—Parmitano’s old suit as well as two others—available to conduct EVAs, all of which are susceptible to the flooding problem. The astronauts plan to use the other two suits during any repair EVAs, with Parmitano's old suit as a back up, the source said.
The ISS astronauts’ lives are not currently in danger and the station’s internal temperature has remained within normal levels since the failure, according to the source.
Representatives from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which oversees ISS operations, were unavailable for comment.
The agency did release the following statement:
Earlier today, the pump module on one of the space station's two external cooling loops automatically shut down when it reached pre-set temperature limits. These loops circulate ammonia outside the station to keep both internal and external equipment cool. The flight control teams worked to get the cooling loop back up and running, and they suspect a flow control valve actually inside the pump itself might not be functioning correctly. At no time was the crew or the station itself in any danger, but the ground teams did work to move certain electrical systems over to the second loop. Some non-critical systems have been powered down inside the Harmony node, the Kibo laboratory and the Columbus laboratory while the teams work to figure out what caused the valve to not function correctly and how to fix it. The crew is safe and preparing to begin a normal sleep shift while experts on the ground collect more data and consider what troubleshooting activities may be necessary.
The Kibo and Columbus laboratories contain most of the science experiments conducted on the ISS.
The voicemail for the press office directs you to this website for station updates.
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