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Serious spacesuit problem forces NASA to pause ISS spacewalks

Published May 20th, 2022 6:31PM EDT
ISS astronaut in spacesuit
Image: Artsiom P / Adobe

The International Space Station’s spacesuits might finally need to be retired. NASA has paused ISS spacewalks following a water leak in one of the astronauts’ helmets. This isn’t the first time that the aging spacesuits have sprung a leak, either. Back in 2013, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano had to cut a spacewalk short after his helmet filled with 1.5 liters of water.

NASA pauses ISS spacewalks

astronaut conducts ISS spacewalkImage source: NASA

A spacesuit is literally the difference between being able to breathe and being lost to the vacuum of space. As such, it’s important that the ISS’s spacesuits be able to reliably hold up during these routine walks outside the station. However, it seems that NASA’s 40-year-old spacesuits just aren’t cutting it anymore.

Back in 2017, a report shared that only 18 spacesuits on the station were still useable. Now, though, it seems that number may be shrinking even more. But a leaky spacesuit isn’t easy to brush off. It’s a potentially life-threatening scenario that no astronaut should have to worry about when out on an ISS spacewalk.

The latest incident with the ISS’s spacesuits happened in March. Astronauts Raja Chair and Matthias Maurer headed out on a routine EVA (extravehicular activity). The two were meant to install hoses on a radiator beam valve module outside the station. However, by the end of the seven-hour spacewalk, Maurer noticed water and dampness inside his visor.

NASA said the issue posed no threat to Maurer’s life, but it could have been much worse. Following the incident, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel decided to pause ISS spacewalks.

Digging into the issues

international space station over EarthImage source: dimazel / Adobe

Unfortunately, engineers on Earth are the only ones who can properly examine the suits. As such, NASA plans to send them back during the upcoming June SpaceX Dragon mission.

Until that happens, though, the space agency says that conducting ISS spacewalks is too much of a risk. Instead, it will need to consider the risk of conducting any future spacewalks in the meantime.

NASA already unveiled new spacesuits back in 2019. NASA will replace the aging suits with the new ones. They’ll also use them in the Artemis missions to the Moon. However, funding shortages have delayed the deployment of those suits. As such, astronauts on the ISS have continued to use the older suits. Previously, NASA extended the lifetime of the current suits to 2028.

However, if astronauts continue to have issues with leaky suits on ISS spacewalks, NASA may be forced to change them out. At the moment, it isn’t clear how NASA plans to handle spacewalks going forward.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices. Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.