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NASA Opens Probe into Space Suit Leak


Space Station Astronaut Luca Parmitano speaks with Italian dignitaries after risky spacewalk. Photo credit/NASA TV

NASA appointed a Mishap Investigation Board on Tuesday to unravel a July 16 space suit leak that released at least a liter of water, much of it into the helmet of European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano. NASA’s Mission Control was forced to short his spacewalk with U. S. astronaut Chris Cassidy outside the International Space Station.

The worrisome incident has forced a suspension of U. S. scheduled spacewalks until the source of the leak and any contributing factors have been identified and remedied.

Luca Parmitano, lower left, assisted by Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, and NASA's Karen Nyberg, in space station airlock following July 16 space suit leak. Photo Credit/NASA TV.

Meanwhile, NASA dispatched a tool kit to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where it will be loaded aboardRussia’s Progress 52 cargo capsule, which is scheduled to launch and dock with the space station late Saturday.

Parmitano and Cassidy could be given the green light on Friday to begin repairs to the leaky protective garment. Space agency engineers, pursuing a parallel line of troubleshooting, have focused their attention on the suit’s water circulating cooling system as the likely leak source, rather than the astronaut’s in suit drink bag.

NASA space station chief engineer Chris Hansen will chair the mishap panel. He will be joined by Mike Foreman, a veteran astronaut; Richard Fullerton, NASA’s ISS lead for safety and mission assurance;  Sudhakar Rajula, a NASA human factors specialist; and Joe Pellicciotti, chief engineer from the independent NASA Engineering and Safety Center. ESA will be represented as well by a liaison, and the board will have access to additional experts and test facilities.

On Aug. 2, the board begins efforts to explain the leak, draw lessons learned from the incident and recommend changes in operations and procedures as warranted to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Plans for a 6 1/2 hour spacewalk were cut to 93 minutes by NASA flight director David Korth when the sensation of wetness on the back of Parmitano’s head led quickly to a build up around the spacewalker’s eyes, ears and nose. The 36-year-old Italian Air Force test pilot was forced to make his way to the safety of the station’s U. S. airlock by memory and touch.

Had he choked, Parmitano might have drowned, NASA said.

He was assisted from the suit by U. S. and Russian astronauts.

Parmitano, who was later praised for responding without panic, compared the ordeal to having his head in a fish bowl.






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