February 27, 2014

Spacesuit Risks


Maggie: When astronauts are out in space, they rely on their spacesuits for survival. They can weigh in at almost 300 pounds and cost around $10 million. But as Demetrius Pipkin tells us, those expensive suits could be showing their age.

Neil Armstrong: One giant leap for mankind.

Demetrius: Space exploration has come a long way, but unfortunately spacesuits have not. The aeronautical outfits that were once technological marvels are in major need of a makeover.

Last July, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano said it was like wearing a fishbowl on his head when water started leaking into his helmet during a spacewalk. There was so much water, he couldn’t see, hear or speak. He had to be guided back inside the International Space Station by an American astronaut.

Commentator: You can see some of the water floating away that had built up inside Luca’s helmet. Helmet off, and Luca safely back inside.

Demetrius: Yesterday, NASA’s Mishap Investigation Board released a report pointing to another leak problem with Parmitano’s suit during this spacewalk a week before.

Commentator: Luca Parmitano – that view from his helmet camera.

Demetrius: NASA investigators found the details about the first leak weren’t properly reported.

Expert: Clearly this was a close call. Clearly they missed what the original cause of this was.

Demetrius: Experts say investigators are critical of the breakdown in communications and say the information about the first leak was not passed up the command chain, so the problem was not addressed before the second leak nearly drowned the Italian astronaut.

Astronauts wear a liquid-cooled layer under their suits to regulate body temperature, and it is believed the cooling water from that under suit is what leaked into the helmet. And while NASA is currently developing some new spacesuits, for now astronauts are still wearing suits that were designed 35 years ago.

Maggie, back to you.

Maggie: Thanks, Demetrius.

And while they wait for the new design, many astronauts have gotten creative, using things like absorbent pads and even a makeshift snorkel just in case a water leak happens again.


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