Ground control to Major Tim! Brit's spacewalk halted after NASA 'naut takes unexpected leak

Zero-grav liquid discovery ends space station repair job

Tim Peake

NASA called an early halt to a British astronaut's spacewalk after water leaked in his American colleague's spacesuit.

The European Space Agency's Major Tim Peake and his NASA counterpart Colonel Tim Kopra had planned to spend over six hours outside the International Space Station replacing a faulty sequential shunt unit that regulates voltage coming from the station's solar cells.

It's a tricky job, since it could only be done when the ISS is in the Earth's shadow to avoid the danger of sparks from powered up solar cells. The unit replacement went well and the duo moved on to other maintenance tasks but Kopra reported a ball of water in his spacesuit and NASA stopped the excursion after four hours and 43 minutes.

When Kopra saw the water in his mask, NASA control asked him to taste it to gauge its temperature. The water was cold, indicating a leak in the spacesuit's cooling system, but any water in a spacesuit is a serious matter.

In 2013 Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned in his spacesuit after a serious water leak and had to be rushed back into the ISS. Similarly singing astronaut Chris Hadfield was blinded by water on his first spacewalk after irritation caused his eyes to tear up and, with no gravity, settled over his eyes.

Thankfully, in Kopra's case, there was only around 15cc of water in the suit, which Peake viewed and described as "less than golfball-size." But given that a carbon dioxide sensor has already failed in Kopra's suit, NASA ordered the two Tims back into the orbiting space station.

It's not a decision NASA takes lightly, since getting astronauts ready for the spacewalk took five hours of preparation. Astronauts have to purge nitrogen from their blood for hours by huffing pure oxygen before suiting up to avoid getting the bends and simply getting into the equipment is two or three-person job.

Peake and his partner are now back in the station and desuiting. As per normal procedure the spacesuits will be photographed and checked for holes and tears before they can be reused. Peake is scheduled for more spacewalks during his six-month stay on the ISS and should be outside the station again in the next month or so. ®

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