Astronauts Deal With Toxic Ammonia

Mission Control feared cabin could become contaminated during spacewalk
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 13, 2021 3:40 PM CST
Astronauts Deal With Toxic Ammonia
NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins on a spacewalk Saturday outside the International Space Station. The astronauts are rearranging space station plumbing and tackling other odd jobs.   (NASA via AP)

Spacewalking astronauts had to take extra safety precautions Saturday after possibly getting toxic ammonia on their suits from the International Space Station's external cooling system. Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins had no trouble removing and venting a couple of old jumper cables to remove any ammonia still lingering in the lines. But so much ammonia spewed out of the first hose that Mission Control worried some of the frozen white flakes might have gotten on their suits, the AP reports. Hopkins was surprised at the amount of ammonia unleashed into the vacuum of space. "Oh yeah, look at that go. Did you see that?" he asked flight controllers. "There's more than I thought." Even though the stream of ammonia was directed away from the astronauts and the space station, Hopkins said some icy crystals may have contacted his helmet. As a result, Mission Control said it was going to require inspections.

The astronauts' first suit check found nothing amiss. "Looks clean," Hopkins called down. NASA did not want ammonia getting inside the space station and contaminating the cabin atmosphere. The astronauts used long tools to vent the hoses and stayed clear of the nozzles, to reduce the risk of ammonia contact. Four hours into the planned six-hour spacewalk, Mission Control said that the astronauts had already spent enough time in the sunlight to bake off any ammonia residue from their suits, and that everything should be good when they go back inside. An unrelated issue quickly popped up, however, when Glover complained of eye irritation. He said his right eye was watering but added that blinking seemed to help. Saturday's other chores included: replacing an antenna for helmet cameras, rerouting ethernet cables, tightening connections on a European experiment platform, and installing a metal ring on the hatch thermal cover. It was the sixth spacewalk—and, barring an emergency, the last—for this US-Russian-Japanese crew of seven.

(More International Space Station stories.)

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