NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Saturday, March 13, 2021. (NASA via AP)

NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins on a spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Saturday, March 13, 2021. (NASA via AP)

Spacewalkers take extra safety precautions for toxic ammonia

The International Space Station’s external cooling system may have leaked onto the astronauts

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.

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 “be conservative” and require inspections.

The astronauts’ first suit check found nothing amiss. “Looks clean,” Hopkins called down.

NASA did not want any 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.

Once the ammonia hoses were emptied, the astronauts moved one of them to a more central location near the NASA hatch, in case it’s needed on the opposite end of the station. The ammonia jumper cables were added years ago following a cooling system leak.

As the nearly seven-hour spacewalk drew to a close, Mission Control said the astronauts had already spent enough time in the sunlight to bake off any ammonia residue from their suits. Indeed, once Glover and Hopkins were back inside, their crewmates said they could smell no ammonia but still wore gloves while handling the suits.

The hose work should have been completed during a spacewalk a week ago, but was put off along with other odd jobs when power upgrades took longer than expected.

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.

Eager to get these station improvements done before the astronauts head home this spring, Mission Control ordered up the bonus spacewalk for Glover and Hopkins, who launched last November on SpaceX. They teamed up for back-to-back spacewalks 1 1/2 months ago and were happy to chalk up another.

“It was a good day,” Glover said once back inside.

Although most of their efforts paid off, there were a few snags.

The spacewalk got started nearly an hour late, so the men could replace the communication caps beneath their helmets in order to hear properly. A few hours later, Glover’s right eye started watering. The irritation soon passed, but later affected his left eye.

Then as Glover wrapped up his work, a bolt came apart and floated away along with the washers, becoming the latest pieces of space junk.

“Sorry about that,” Glover said. “No, no, it’s not your fault,” Mission Control assured him.

It was the sixth spacewalk — and, barring an emergency, the last — for this U.S.-Russian-Japanese crew of seven. All but one was led by NASA.

Space

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

President of the West Coast Fine Arts Show, Brian Croft, said pandemic restrictions necessitated a shift to an entirely online event this year, running until April 30. (File photo)
The West Fine Art Show shifts to an online-only event amid tighter health orders

Website version retains the flavour of the annual live exhibition

A vaccine-filled needle awaits injection, during a COVID-19 vaccination clinic held Jan. 15, 2021 at Amica White Rock. Community Living B.C.-funded workers learned April 8 that they, too, can now be vaccinated. (Tracy Holmes file photo)
Support workers for those with disabilities given vaccine priority

News shared with Community Living B.C.-funded staff on April 8

British Columbia Attorney General David Eby. (Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Attorney General covers housing, homelessness and justice reform in Surrey Zoom

‘I think it would be really great to hold some sessions in Surrey,’ Eby says of legislative assembly

Scott Wheatley stands with the main Kenyan and Ugandan umpiring crew that he trained at the Nakirebe Complex outside of Kampala in 2020. Wheatley, a member-at-large with Softball B.C. is supporting a recent open letter from the sporting body that calls on the government to reinstate gameplay for kids in organized sports. (Photo: Submitted)
Softball B.C. urges provincial health officer to lift ban on gameplay for kids in organized sports

Sporting body sent open letter to both Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix

Surrey Fire Service is on scene of a fire in the 12300-block of 72A Avenue Saturday morning (April 10). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Surrey crews on scene of house fire

It happened in the 12300-block of 72A Avenue

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 towards South Island film studio, fulfilling B.C. NDP promise

Investment to fund movie studio feasibility study at Camosun College

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

People stroll through rows of tulips in bloom during the Tulips of the Valley Festival on May 2, 2017. The colourful spring event, now called Chilliwack Tulips, opens on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Fraser Valley tulip attraction returns this weekend for 1 month

More than 6.5 million bulbs in all at this year’s colourful Chilliwack Tulips event

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed on April 4, according to a statement from police. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police name victim following city’s fourth homicide of 2021

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed Sunday in the Downtown Eastside

Most Read