It’s been a busy week for NASA and its Frequent Walker Program. With three space walks in the last week alone, some might suspect NASA and its International Space Station (ISS) partners might be introducing a frequent walker program. How many walks would an astronauts require for a free round trip ticket from Los Angeles to New York?
Joking aside, the astronauts have had a busy holiday season.
The first walk, or extra-vehicular activity (EVA), as it’s called in space, took place on Dec. 21 and lasted for 5 hours and 28 minutes. American astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins locked out to remove an ammonia pump. The ISS team first tried to fix the 354-kilogram fridge sized pump, which stopped working on Dec. 11, by remote means that were unsuccessful. It was then decided that a series of EVAs would be required to fix the pump. The walk went according to plan and after the pump was moved to an alternate temporary position the two astronauts returned to the space station.
It was the first space walk since they were put on hold in July as a result of a dramatic event that played out when Italian astronaut Luca Parmitan’s helmet flooded with water due to a compromised device in the Italian’s space suit. As a result of that malfunction, both astronauts’ helmets were modified with plastic snorkels that would allow them to breathe air from the lower part of their suits if their helmets flooded.
NASA implemented the next phase of its Frequent Walker Program on Christmas Eve when the same two astronauts locked out for 7 hours and 30 minutes to install the replacement pump. It was a successful walk, but not without drama. During the EVA, the two astronauts were sprinkled with ammonia when a supply hose ruptured. Though the ammonia is toxic, NASA determined that the astronauts were exposed to the sun for a long enough duration that the ammonia was baked out from the suits. The astronauts completed the scheduled three EVA tasks in two and it was deemed an early Christmas present to all.
The third EVA was earlier today when two Russian cosmonauts, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanski, attempted to install two cameras to the exterior of the ISS. The cameras are owned by a Canadian company, UrtheCast, which plans to provide high-resolution real-time views of earth to internet subscribers. Unfortunately, the cameras wouldn’t come online and they were returned to the ISS. That setback was cushioned by the successful hardware installation of Seismoprognoz, an experiment which will monitor earthquakes on Earth. They also removed Vsplesk, an older experiment, that was jettisoned into space. The two cosmonauts were locked out for a little more than seven and a half hours, a new record for the Russians.
It’s been an interesting week for the ISS. Orbiting at around 270 miles above the earth, the three EVAs totaled over 20 hours of spacewalking. Apart from the camera malfunction, it has been a very good week for the astronauts.
With 11 spacewalks completed in 2013, three of them in the last week alone, one has to wonder whether NASA’s frequent walker program will catch on? Who knows? Walk on, ISS astronauts.
By Scott Wilson