Emergency spacewalks planned for ISS

Astronauts will have to perform three spacewalks to fix a broken cooling system


Credit: NASA

Astronauts have been preparing their space suits since the fault was discovered

Christmas might have to be postponed for the crew aboard the International Space Station after a pump module malfunction. To repair the fault several emergency spacewalks have been planned on 21 and 23 December, with a possible third on Christmas Day.

The pump is part of the cooling system that circulates ammonia around the outside of the station to help dispel heat generated on board and keep the temperature inside at a comfortable level for the astronauts. On 11 December, a temperature anomaly caused the system to automatically shut down.

Flight director Judd Freiling says, "What failed was the regulation of where the hot and the warm ammonia go. Currently we're just getting cold ammonia into the system and there's a risk of freezing the internal water-cooling loops, allowing ammonia into the internal part of the station. That's a really bad thing for the astronauts."

Though a back-up cooling system is keeping the ambient temperature at a comfortable level, NASA wants to make the repair as soon as possible. Ground control have attempted to fix the problem remotely, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

Astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins have been preparing their suits in anticipation of a possible spacewalk since the fault was first discovered. They plan to replace the broken module with one of the spares kept aboard the station, a complicated procedure that will take several trips.

Though the situation is potentially quite serious, the team is confident that they can swap out the pump and keep the station running. It's hoped that they will be able to fix the problem with only two spacewalks, meaning the crew might still get to have their Christmas dinner after all.

To find out more about what Christmas is usually like on board the ISS, check out the December issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine, available through our subscription site.


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