NASA evaluating spacesuit problem – EVAs on hold

by Chris Bergin

Cut gloves during STS-120 and a failed EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) test are undergoing large scale evaluations by NASA engineers, with a resolution to the latter required before any further spacewalks will be allowed.

Testing of one EMU, inside the giant pressurized chamber at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, was halted after a smell of smoke was noted.

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The crewmember testing the suit in Houston last Friday was removed from the EMU without suffering any injury, although the problem is now officially part of a mishap investigation.

‘EMU Spacesuit Troubleshooting: During a SSATA (Space Station Airlock Test Article) chamber run on the ground this past Friday, a crew member reported the smell of smoke inside the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit). The run was terminated, and the crew member extracted without incident,’ noted the latest On Orbit Status report.

‘A mishap investigation board was formed and has recommended that all life support system operations (power, O2 ops, etc.) for the on-orbit EMUs be terminated until a root cause can be determined. Thus, the on-orbit EMUs are No Go. All other ops, such as suit resizing, can be performed.’

A resolution will need to be found by the investigation team, by November 20, ahead of when the next ISS stage spacewalk (EVA-10) is due to be conducted. A delay could have a knock on effect to the scheduled launch date of STS-122.

While not a restriction to future EVAs, the issues with the gloves were again highlighted during STS-120, with more cuts and peeling observed during three of the four spacewalks, as outlined in one of the STS-120 post flight IFA (In Flight Anomaly) presentations on L2.

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‘During EVA 1, EV-2 (Doug Wheelock) performed his routine glove inspections. At GMT ~299/15:07, Wheelock reported RTV peeling on his right glove (s/n 6068). During POST EVA, the crew took photos of their gloves, per 1.240 POST EVA, and subsequently downlinked the pictures,’ noted the presentation.

‘After MCC-H completed the review of the downlinked photos, significant RTV loss was confirmed along the inboard seam of the thumb and index finger, with nominal wear and abrasion of the Vectran. It should be noted that this is the same area that was damaged on CM Rick Mastracchio and Robert ‘Beamer’ Curbeam’s gloves. Glove was deemed GO for shuttle contingency use only.’

The damage to the gloves wasn’t as extreme as observed during STS-118’s EVA-3, which was forced into an early termination due to a cut. However, cuts to the gloves were observed during the third EVA on this mission.

‘Near the end of 10A EVA 3, EV2 installed APFR 3 in Lab WIF 13 and had some difficulty getting it installed. Following the EVA and IVA glove inspection, EV2 found a cut in his right glove, which was the hand used to install the APFR, and he felt that the cut was due to the difficulty with the APFR install.

‘Wheelock called down the hole was on the inside of his right thumb, the size of a 2 mil by 3 mil square hole. EV2 wore different gloves for EVA 4, and Over Gloves for the entire EVA. APFR 3 was returned inside at the end of EVA 4 for subsequent IVA inspection (along with APFR 7, which was the suspect APFR from the vectran damage on Mastraccio’s glove). ISS CDR performed inspection on 11/7 and found no sharp edges.

‘Post EVA 3 (GMT 303/17:21), EV-2 (Wheelock) commented on his suit fit at which time he also gave a status of his 1st back-up pair of gloves (s/n 6193). Wheelock stated that inside of his right thumb, there is a 2 millimeter by 3 millimeter square hole in the Vectran. He said it appeared that there was some blue/green color seen through the hole.

‘He commented that on his way back to the Airlock he was working with the APFR locking collar, and he was certain this was where he got the hole in his right glove since his gloves looked fine immediately after he egressed the SRMS. The right glove was deemed NO GO for use. EV2 was directed to use the third B/U right glove for EVA 4. APFR #3 was brought inside at the end of EVA 4 for IVA inspection.’

This incident led to the decision for the newly added ‘Over Glove’ to be used during the opening part of EVA-4’s P6 4B Solar Array repair, allowing Wheelock and Parazynski the extra protection to their gloves during the hugely important spacewalk.

Other issues noted in the presentation include issues with the 55-ft safety tether, which did not retract as expected during EVA-4. The sublimator exit temperature for EMU (3004) – which was higher than expected, and trended upward over EVAs 1, 2, and 3, and a pair of needle-nose pliers – which were lost during the mission.

Meanwhile, on the ISS, PMA-2 (Pressurized Mating Adapter 2) relocation was successfully completed on Monday.

‘Using the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System), CDR Peggy Whitson and FE-2 Dan Tani unberthed the PMA-2, transferred it, and reberthed it at the Node-2 Forward dock,’ noted the ISS On Orbit Status report.

‘Prior to the transfer ops, the Node-2 Fwd CBM (Common Berthing Mechanism) unexpectedly deactivated due to a comm dropout. Ground controllers executed troubleshooting steps to restore the CBM to function for the transfer, and the ops proceeded nominally.

‘While Dan started up the DOUG (Dynamic Orbital Ubiquitous Graphics) software for monitoring SSRMS maneuvering, Peggy conducted another leak check, verifying that PMA-2 internal pressure had decreased to less than 1.4 mmHg. After notifying MCC-Houston, the Go was given for unberthing.

‘With the PMA PDGF (Power & Data Grapple Fixture) firmly gripped by the Canadian robotarm, the Node-1 Fwd CBM was unbolted from the ground, and the PMA slowly moved over to the ISS port side by Whitson and Tani, to be successfully docked, mated and bolted at the Destiny fwd CBM.’

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