The International Space Station is one seriously advanced piece of technology, packed with gadgets and various hardware that allow the on-board astronauts to carry out their various research projects. But, like any aging vehicle, it’s been beat up, repaired, and upgraded almost constantly during its nearly 19 years in orbit. Now, the spontaneous failure of a newly-installed device is prompting a short-notice spacewalk in the hopes that the malfunctioning component can be replaced.
According to NASA, a newly-installed multiplexer/demultiplexer (MDM), which is less than two months old at this point, has failed. The device allows the crew to control various exterior functions of the spacecraft, such as manipulation the solar panels. The systems have a built-in redundancy, but it’s crucial that there are two functioning MDMs at all times. The failure of the MDM isn’t life-threatening to the astronauts in any way, but it must be replaced in short order nonetheless.
A previously unscheduled spacewalk is now slated to take place on Tuesday, May 23rd, so that astronauts can swap out the busted MDM for one that functions properly. NASA says it has no idea why the component failed. The spacewalk to perform the repair will take roughly two hours.
Spacewalks aren’t exactly a rare occurrence at the International Space Station, but they’re still something that must be planned and orchestrated with great care. Past spacewalk flubs include a repair part that floated away and was lost forever, and a leaky hose that required the astronauts to share a single connection and take turns getting charged up.