“Water loss in helmets”

Due to a problem with the suits (EMU), which causes water to leak into the helmet, NASA and ESA have suspended “spacewalks” from the ISS.

Luca Parmitano during an EVA. Credit: NASA / ESA

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have decided to discontinue extravehicular activities or EVAs – better known as “space travel” – due to a problem with US space suits (EMUs). If there is no particular emergency situation on the International Space Station (ISS), then astronauts will no longer be allowed to go out “among the stars” until the engine orders. In fact, a study is currently underway to understand how to fix a defect (already known) that causes water to accumulate in astronauts’ helmets. The most recent incident took place in March this year, when 20 to 25 centimeters of water gathered in the helmet of German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer while he was on a spacewalk for seven hours with his NASA colleague Raja Chari. The event did not directly endanger Maurer’s life, but far more dangerous events have occurred in the past. The worst happened in 2013 for Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, shortly after leaving the ISS; about 1.5 liters of water accumulated in his helmet, making it difficult to breathe. He had to run back to the airlock because he was in serious danger of drowning.

The announcement of the temporary halt to space travel was made by NASA’s Deputy ISS Program Director Dana Weigel during a briefing on the upcoming unmanned aerial vehicle test of the Boeing CST-100. A few days earlier, former US astronaut Susan Helms, who is part of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), had claimed that EMUs had been “banned” for space travel, of course, pending the results of a study. From the first analyzes performed on Matthias Maurer’s suit, there would have been signs of water contamination potentially associated with the leak in the helmet. Until the suit is sent to Earth, however, there can be no confirmation – it arrives on one of the next Crew Dragon shuttles. “Until we better understand what the triggers may have been during the last EVA with our EMU, no further EVAs will be performed. We will not schedule EVAs until we have had a chance to really analyze and rule out the nature of the problem, Commented Weigel. ESA has also confirmed the suspension of space travel.

The costumes used by astronauts are quite old and date back to the era of the space shuttle, but they are still used because they are very expensive. Suffice it to say that in order to design the new xEMUs that will bring humans back to the moon (with the Artemis mission), NASA had spent more than $ 420 million by 2021. But the prototypes are not yet ready, and it It is estimated that ‘finishing the finished and finished suits will cost $ 1 billion. These models should be ready by 2025 at the earliest.

ASAP points out that the suits used today on the ISS have a limited life cycle, but can be used until 2028: “New suits are needed not only for future space exploration, but also for current space activities. NASA can not continue necessary ongoing operations in low orbit around the Earth without fully functional EVA suits, “the agency concluded. However, the shutdown announced by ESA relates only to US EMUs and no reference was made to the Russian lawsuits. Samantha Cristoforetti, who is currently involved in Minerva mission, could step out in a Russian costume if she was involved in an EVA.

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