Tim Peake’s spacewalk is eagerly awaited today, especially after a failed attempt which occurred on Friday, when his fellow astronaut suffered a technical mishap.
43-year old Tim Peake is the first British astronaut from the European Space Agency, and was sent off to the International Space Station (ISS) on December 15, 2015.
He completed his first spacewalk outside the spacecraft on January 15, 2016, this being the first time that a British astronaut ever carried out such a mission for the ISS, which orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, at a distance of 248 miles.
At the time, the purpose was to remove a faulty sequential shunt unit (SSU) and install a new one in its place, in order to ensure that the station’s solar panels function correctly.
Another spacewalk had been scheduled for Peake and NASA Astronaut Tim Kopra on Friday, January 22, but at the time the mission had to be aborted, due to a technical glitch that could’ve put the Kopra’s life in danger.
More precisely, the 52-year old Texan noticed that water had been leaking from his spacesuit into the helmet, and the discovery forced the lead flight director Royce Renfrew to order Kopra and his colleague to return back on the ship immediately.
Whenever an astronaut has to leave the station, he or she has to get inside a spacesuit, technically known as a Space Shuttle Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU).
The contraption is much more than just a an intricate piece of clothing. For instance, the system gives the astronauts full protection against extreme temperatures (verging between minus 250 degrees and 250 degrees Fahrenheit), as well as against space radiation.
It also guards the spacewalker from the sun’s blinding rays, due to its extravehicular visor assembly, while the helmet and hard torso assemblies shield him or her from small fragments of dust, which can cause greater harm than expected because of their incredibly high velocity.
The spacesuit is equipped with a primary life support subsystem, which expels carbon dioxide, while providing the astronaut with enough oxygen to breathe normally. The innermost layer is represented by the liquid cooling and ventilation garment, an intricate system of tubes through which water passes, in order to have a cooling effect on the body.
Apparently, during Friday’s failed spacewalk, water reached the helmet, and although the surface that was affected measured just around 4 inches in length and 2 inches in height, the mission, which was supposed to last 6 hours, was still considered too risky to continue.
More than two years ago, on July 16 2013, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano almost drowned in his spacesuit after a similar incident. At the time, water leaked into Parmitano’s helmet, filling his ears, nose and eyes, causing him to be unable to see anything around him or to hear any of the directions issued by his fellow crew members.
Luckily, the astronaut eventually managed to get back on board, but ever since this terrifying event ISS flight specialists have been extremely wary regarding similar mishaps.
At the moment, Kopra’s problem is still being investigated, in order to determine the reason why the integrity of the spacesuit was compromised. Engineers are also hoping to discover why the astronaut experienced abnormally high levels of carbon dioxide while inside the EMU.
Today, Peake’s spacewalk will hopefully unfold without any glitches or difficulties. The mission is scheduled to start at 13:55 CET, and will consist in setting up a valve, changing a voltage regulator, and deploying cables outside the spacecraft.
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