Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news about fascinating discoveries, scientific advances and more.
Things soon get busy on the International Space Station as the first of a series of year-end spacewalks kicked off Tuesday morning.
First-time spacewalkers and NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio began their field trip outside of the space station at 9:14 a.m. ET with live coverage NASA website. The event is expected to last about seven hours.
Cassada is wearing the red stripe space suit as extravehicular crew member 1 while Rubio is in the unmarked suit as extravehicular crew member 2.
The astronauts mount a bracket on the starboard side of the space station’s truss. The hardware, which will be installed during the spacewalk, was delivered to the space station on Nov. 9 aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft, which safely delivered its cargo although only one of the two solar systems is used after the start.
This hardware allows for the installation of more rollout solar arrays, called iROSAs, to give the space station a performance boost. The first two rollout solar systems were installed outside the station in June 2021. A total of six iROSAs are planned, which are likely to increase the space station’s power generation by more than 30% once all are operational.
While two more spacewalks on November 28 and December 1, and a crew of two astronauts will roll out and install another pair of solar arrays once assembly hardware is in place. The solar arrays will be delivered as part of SpaceX Dragon’s next commercial resupply mission, which is currently scheduled for launch on November 21.
Spacewalks are part of the routine of the space station’s crew as they maintain and modernize the aging orbital laboratory, but Tuesday’s spacewalk is NASA’s first since March. The agency’s spacewalks came to a halt after the European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer completed his first spacewalk with water in his helmet.
Returning to the airlock after a nearly seven-hour spacewalk, a thin layer of moisture was discovered inside Maurer’s helmet, exceeding the normal, expected amount. Maurer quickly removed his helmet in an event classified as “close” by NASA, and water samples, suit hardware and the spacesuit itself were returned to Earth for examination. NASA officials determined that the suit had no hardware failures.
“The cause of the water in the helmet was likely due to the integrated system performance, where several variables such as crew effort and crew cooling settings resulted in the generation of comparatively larger amounts of condensation than normal in the system,” according to NASA in a Blog post update.
“Based on the findings, the team updated operational procedures and developed new mitigation hardware to minimize scenarios where the integrated power causes water accumulation while absorbing emerging water. These measures will help contain any liquid in the helmet to continue protecting the crew.”
NASA officials gave the green light for spacewalks to resume after the review was completed in October.
The investigation team has developed techniques to control temperatures inside the suit and added new absorption bands to the helmet, said Dina Contella, operations integration manager for the International Space Station program.
The thin orange pieces were placed in different parts of the helmet, which has already been tested by the astronauts in the orbiting space station.
“We took several different models of these and the crew on board were sloshing water around, essentially trying to squirt water into the helmet at the same rate, which would be something like the worst, worst case scenario. And we found that those pads were very, very effective,” Contella said.
Tuesday’s spacewalk will allow the crew to test the new pads while working off the space station before the more complex solar arrays are installed over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, a Russian spacewalk is scheduled to take place on Thursday. Cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin begin their walk at 9 a.m. ET to work on the exterior of the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module. The duo will prepare a chiller for transfer from the Rassvet module to Nauka during their seven-hour spacewalk, which will also be streamed live on NASA’s website.