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EVA

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Kavya Manyapu, Flight Crew Operations and Test Engineer – CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft, The Boeing Company

4 November, 2019

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Kavya Manyapu working on crew (astronaut) operations [Image credit: Boeing / Kavya Manyapu]

Dr. Kavya K. Manyapu is truly a Rocket Woman. At The Boeing Company, she is focused on developing the next generation human-rated spacecraft – the CST-100 Starliner. Starliner is scheduled to launch astronauts to the International Space Station over the coming year through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. As the Starliner Spacesuit Lead, Kavya designs and tests the distinctive launch and entry spacesuits to be worn by the Starliner’s crew and trains NASA astronauts assigned to fly onboard the Starliner spacecraft, including the trailblazing Sunita Williams.

Kavya’s keen interest and passion in spacesuit design has additionally led her to develop a key technology to repel lunar dust from spacesuits – the sharp abrasive lunar dust posed a significant hindrance during the Apollo program, damaging spacesuits and creating pressure leaks. Her self-cleaning material sample prototypes are currently being tested on a platform outside the International Space Station! This technology will be crucial as we work towards achieving NASA’s Artemis missions in the 2020s to return humans to the surface of the Moon.

Kavya also teaches the next generation of spacesuit designers and engineers as Adjunct Faculty at the University of North Dakota (UND), and has recently become a Mum. She recently told her alma mater MIT that her ultimate goal is to, “design the next-generation space suit to enhance human capabilities when we go back to the moon—and possibly wear it one day on a mission.”

Rocket Women were thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to Kavya about her passion for human spaceflight and spacesuit design, what success means to her and how her family has helped to shape her career path.

What was the path to get to where you are now in the space industry and what drives your passion for space?

My curiosity in space started when I was 3 years young. I was inspired by the stories my father narrated about Apollo astronauts, cosmonauts and the first Indian cosmonaut in space, while also patiently taking the time to answer every question I had about space and the cosmos. It was my parents’ encouragement to pursue something I am passionate about and to give my best to whatever path I chose that gave me the courage to step into this field. That’s where it started, as a child I was curious and wondered if there were sharks on the moon and whether I can one day explore this myself, and several years later I am living my dream today, working on one of humankind’s greatest endeavors. Working in the space industry makes me realize the immense possibilities of being a human.

It was my parents’ encouragement to pursue something I am passionate about and to give my best to whatever path I chose that gave me the courage to step into this field.

Kavya Manyapu working on the Boeing Starliner Spacesuit, to be worn by astronauts during launch and re-entry onboard the Starliner spacecraft [Image credit: Boeing Company / Kavya Manyapu]

Kavya Manyapu working on the Boeing Starliner spacesuit, to be worn by astronauts during launch, ascent and re-entry onboard the Starliner spacecraft [Image credit: Boeing Company / Kavya Manyapu]

It’s truly amazing to see your innovative spacesuit material being tested on the International Space Station! Congratulations! Could you tell us a bit more about the project and how you were inspired to develop the material?

I’ve always had a keen interest on spacesuits and a fascination for them. While I’ve been working on the next generation spacecraft at Boeing building the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, my interest in getting an advanced degree at the University of North Dakota opened an opportunity to deep dive in the area of spacesuits for long duration missions.

During the early days of my Ph.D. research, I had an opportunity to talk to Apollo Astronaut Alan Bean. It was during the same time I was reading papers on post flight investigations of Apollo spacesuits and hardware, particularly his suit being contaminated by lunar dust and the deleterious impacts of lunar dust faced by astronauts during the Apollo missions. Inspired by the conversation with him and my personal aspiration to make a small contribution towards space exploration led to the conception of the SPIcDER (pronounced “Spider”) Technology.

Inspired by the conversation with him [Apollo Astronaut Alan Bean] and my personal aspiration to make a small contribution towards space exploration led to the conception of the SPIcDER (pronounced “Spider”) Technology. SPIcDER (Spacesuit Integrated carbon nanotube Dust Ejection/ Removal system) was developed to overcome the challenges of dust contamination of spacesuits and other hardware deployed on the lunar surface, a capability particularly required if we want to go back to the moon for long duration missions. Inspired by super hero movies (watched a lot as a kid) specifically Spiderman and Batman (hence the name SPIcDER), the research led to developing the technology that repels and removes dust from spacesuits..

SPIcDER (Spacesuit Integrated carbon nanotube Dust Ejection/ Removal system) was developed to overcome the challenges of dust contamination of spacesuits and other hardware deployed on the lunar surface, a capability particularly required if we want to go back to the moon for long duration missions. Inspired by super hero movies (watched a lot as a kid) specifically Spiderman and Batman (hence the name SPIcDER), the research led to developing the technology that repels and removes dust from spacesuits (and other flexible materials) using Carbon Nanotube fibers that are embedded into suits and energized using a cleaning signal.

SPIcDER has been successfully tested in various environments here on earth including on a fully functioning spacesuit knee-joint. Early generation prototypes of this self-cleaning material are now being exposed to the space environment on the MISSE platform on the International Space Station. I am now working on pursing opportunities for follow-on experiments on ISS to further advance this technology.

Kavya Manyapu working on the Boeing commercial crew Starliner vehicle [Credit: Kavya Manyapu / Boeing]

Kavya Manyapu working on the Boeing commercial crew Starliner vehicle [Image credit: Kavya Manyapu / Boeing Company]

Growing up, I always thought a career path would be a straight road. You work hard, get good grades, get into a good university and land your dream job. Conversely, this journey so far has been nothing but exciting with its twists and turns, ups and downs and, failures and successes.

Was there anything unexpected about your career journey that you thought would be different to your initial expectations?

Growing up, I always thought a career path would be a straight road. You work hard, get good grades, get into a good university and land your dream job. Conversely, this journey so far has been nothing but exciting with its twists and turns, ups and downs and, failures and successes. It’s been a learning expedition, giving a deeper experience of life, both inner and outer. I like it this way since I’ll have many stories to share with my kids, grandkids and the next generation!

What does success mean to you?
When I’m able to use myself to my full potential, regardless of the outcome, that’s what I call success. I don’t think I’ve reached that mark yet and still exploring this potential.

Kavya Manyapu, Starliner Spacesuit Lead, wearing the Boeing Starliner spacesuit [Image credit: Boeing/Kavya Manyapu]

Kavya Manyapu, Starliner Spacesuit Lead, wearing the Boeing Starliner spacesuit [Image credit: Boeing Company/Kavya Manyapu]

I was super thrilled and inspired when I first met my favorite astronaut Sunita Williams during my undergrad, that reinforced the notion that we can aspire and achieve to be anything we dream of! Now I get to work with her on my job!

Who were your role models when you were growing up? How important are role models to young girls?

Having positive role models will help us uncover our true potentials and when we see someone in a path that we aspire, it reinforces our aspiration and motivates us to strive to uncover our own talents. Role models for me started at home- my parents and grandma were my first role models. symbolizing hardwork, dedication and compassion.

With exposure to various cultures and people via workshops, extra-curricular activities and change of countries (grew up in India an moved to the US after high school), I realized that every person I met had some unique ability that has inspired me. In that sense, everyone that I came across have taught me something about personal and professional growth. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet several astronauts who have inspired me. Particularly, I was super thrilled and inspired when I first met my favorite astronaut Sunita Williams during my undergrad, that reinforced the notion that we can aspire and achieve to be anything we dream of! Now I get to work with her on my job!

My family has been the backbone of everything I am today.

How did your family help to shape your career path in STEM?

My family has been the backbone of everything I am today. Starting with patiently feeding a 3 year old’s curiosity, to encouraging me to pursue what I am passionate about, taking a big step in leaving their home country and moving to the US so I could pursue my dream of working in the space industry, and more importantly advising me that no matter what career path I choose, I should give my 100%. In my humble opinion empowerment starts at home, and they continue to support me today in both my personal and professional paths.

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be?
Would there be any decisions that you’d have made differently?

The best advice I received as a 10 year old which I continue to follow – , no matter what it is you are doing, try to do your best and give it your 100%. I’m grateful for receiving this advice (and many other) from my parents. Don’t think I would do anything differently, otherwise I may probably not be doing the things I dreamt of as a 10-year-old that I get to do today.

Astronauts, Inspirational women, News

NASA Astronauts Complete Historic First All-Woman Spacewalk

21 October, 2019

NASA Astronauts Christina Koch (EV1 - red stripe) and Jessica Meir carrying out the first all-woman spacewalk on Friday 18th October, 2019 and making history [image: NASA TV screenshot]

NASA Astronauts Christina Koch (EV1 – red stripe) and Jessica Meir carrying out the first all-woman spacewalk on Friday 18th October, 2019 and making history [image: NASA TV screenshot]

Soviet Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to carry out a spacewalk on 25th July 1984, almost 35 years ago. Of the more than 500 people who have been to space, around 10% have been female, and until this week spacewalk teams have either been all-male or male-female, with 15 women having ever carried out a spacewalk or EVA (Extravehicular Activity). [For comparison, there have been 213 male spacewalkers)

Rescheduling Spacewalks

However, on Friday 18th October 2019 history was made as NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch ventured outside of the Quest airlock on the International Space Station and carried out the first all-woman spacewalk, a feat long-overdue. The spacewalking Rocket Women were originally scheduled to carry out a spacewalk on 21st October, however due to the failure of a power controller called a battery charge discharge unit (BCDU) after 19 years of operation onboard the station, their spacewalk was rescheduled to an earlier date and replanned. The BCDU ‘regulates the charge to batteries that collect and distribute power to the station’. Originally this spacewalk was planned to have had the crew install new lithium-ion batteries on the space station, to replace the older nickel-hydrogen batteries, however this task was postponed.

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir [L] and Christina Koch [R] on 15th October 2019 preparing for their joint spacewalk,  holding the Pistol Grip Tools that they will use to exchange a

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir [L] and Christina Koch [R] on 15th October 2019 preparing for their joint spacewalk, holding the Pistol Grip Tools that they will use to exchange a failed power controller that collects and regulates power to the International Space Station

During an interview on NASA TV about their upcoming joint spacewalk, NASA Astronaut Christina Koch said, “I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing, and that in the past women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role, and that, in turn, can lead to an increased chance of success. There are [also] a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them, and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell.”

There are [also] a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them, and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell.

Friday’s 7 hour 17 minute spacewalk was deemed a success with the battery charge-discharge unit fully powered up and running well.

NASA Astronaut Selection Progress

Both Christina and Jessica were selected in NASA’s 2013 Astronaut Class (nicknamed Eight Balls), the first class to have a 50% gender split, the highest female ratio selected, bringing the percentage of female NASA astronauts in the NASA Astronaut Corps to around 30%. This thirty years after Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. NASA and the global space industry are really looking forward, which is fantastic. The recent 2017 astronaut class has five girls out of a total of twelve astronauts, with two astronauts selected at twenty-nine years old.

Presidential Call

President Trump called the pair during the momentous spacewalk and initially mischaracterized their accomplishment, through announcing that,”This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station.” The spacewalk was in fact the first to be conducted by two women, with women having taken part in 42 spacewalks previously with all male-female teams.

NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir responded (whilst outside the International Space Station, in orbit around the Earth travelling at 17,500 mph),

“We don’t want to take too much credit, because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time that there have been two women outside at the same time.

And it’s really interesting for us. We’ve talked a lot about it up here. You know, for us, this is really just us doing our job. It’s something we’ve been training for, for six years, and preparing for….And…we were the crew that was tasked with this assignment.

At the same time, we recognize that it is a historic achievement, and we do, of course, want to give credit to all of those that came before us. There has been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers, and astronauts, and we have followed in their footsteps to get us where we are today.

We hope that we can provide an inspiration to everybody….that has a dream and has a big dream and that is willing to work hard to make that dream come true — something that all of us that have made our way up here have done all throughout our lives. And I can tell you, the hard work certainly did pay off.”

Spacesuit Sizing

Friday’s spacewalk was the 221st spacewalk in support of the space station’s assembly and maintenance. The first all-female spacewalk was originally meant to occur in March 2019, however due to the unavailability of a prepared and configured Medium Hard Upper Torso (HUT) size of the spacesuit it was postponed. NASA Astronaut Anne McClain, scheduled to take part in this 29th March 2019 spacewalk, found that a Medium Hard Upper Torso of the spacesuit would fit her better after her initial prior spacewalk in a Large size. Astronauts often train in a multitude of sizes and their sizing and preference may change on-orbit as their bodies adapt to a microgravity environment – including spinal elongation and fluid shifts.

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch (right) prepare to leave the Quest airlock of the International Space Station and begin the historic first-ever all-female spacewalk. [NASA]

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch (right) prepare to leave the Quest airlock of the International Space Station and begin the historic first-ever all-female spacewalk. [NASA]

For the prior 29th March 2019 spacewalk, two spacesuits respectively with a Medium and Large sized Hard Upper Torso were prepared as initially expected. Due to the length of extra time required to prepare and configure an additional spacesuit with a Medium torso for the shortly upcoming spacewalk, an alternative crewmember (Nick Hague) took part in the March spacewalk instead of Anne McClain to protect the safety of the crew and the timing of the mission, a decision recommended by Anne McClain herself.

Artemis – The First Woman On The Moon

History-making NASA Astronaut Christina Koch is set to remain in space for an extended duration mission of 11 months (328 days) to provide researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman to prepare for human missions to the Moon and Mars. Her mission is set to break the record for the longest single spaceflight for a woman, currently held by NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson who completed a 289 day mission in 2017.

On 8th October, NASA released their new spacesuit designs for future Artemis exploration missions to the Moon, and eventually to Mars, aiming to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024. During a press conference prior to the historic all-woman spacewalk, NASA Adminstrator Jim Bridenstine mentioned the Artemis mission and stated, “We want, of course, to have space available to everybody, and we need to continually demonstrate that space is available to everybody…Of course, another reason this is significant is we are preparing right now to send the next man and the first woman to the moon, so this is all emblematic of that,” he said.

Kristine Davis,  Spacesuit Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wears a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU). The suit will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Kristine Davis, Spacesuit Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wears a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU). The suit will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The new Exploration EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) spacesuits designed for lunar exploration incorporate inclusive sizing with the ability to accommodate anybody from the “first percentile female to the 99th percentile male” according to NASA Spacesuit Designer Amy Ross.

Astronaut Ground Support

The first all-woman spacewalk was also supported by a team of Rocket Women on the ground (around half of the Mission Control Center personnel according to Twitter’s @jennyonconsole)  including Astronaut Stephanie Wilson, who worked as the Capsule Communicator or CAPCOM during the spacewalk and communicated with the crew from NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston. Stephanie was selected as a NASA Astronaut in 1996 and previously flew on three shuttle missions (STS-121 in 2006, STS‑120 in 2007 and STS-131 in 2010). She was the second African American woman to go into space after Mae Jemison.  

At the end of the historic first all-woman spacewalk, NASA Astronaut and International Space University graduate Jessica Meir announced, “Today was especially an honor as we also recognize that this is a milestone. It symbolizes exploration by all that dare to dream and work hard to achieve that dream. Not only that, it’s a tribute to those that paved the way for us to be where we are.” [Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel support a scholarship for women to attend the International Space University!]

This month’s spacewalk provided a vision of a future in which an all-woman spacewalk is no longer remarkable, but hopefully common place as the number of women in the astronaut corps globally increases and humanity ventures onwards to explore the Moon and Mars.

Astronauts, How To Be A Rocket Woman, Inspiration

Why The UK Needed A High Profile British Astronaut

15 December, 2015

As a child I was an avid reader and read every space book I could get my hands on. At the age of 6, I remember reading that Helen Sharman was the UK’s first astronaut and had travelled to space a mere 2 years before, in 1991. That moment changed my life. Rather than astronauts being primarily American NASA Shuttle crew that I saw on TV, or hearing stories of the Moon landing 20 years ago from adults around me, suddenly in the image in front of me was a woman in her 20s with short brown hair. A British woman with the Union Jack patch clearly visible on her left arm of her Sokol spacesuit. I had heard of Michael Foale, born in the UK becoming a US citizen to meet NASA Astronaut qualifications, but never of a British astronaut. I didn’t know it was possible. But in that moment looking at the image of Helen Sharman in her Sokol spacesuit, I realised that that woman could be me. Being a girl born at the end of the 80s in the UK I realised right then that maybe, just maybe, I could be an astronaut too. That changed something inside me. Here was a woman in front of me born in Sheffield, who had studied chemistry, replied to a radio advert calling for UK astronauts, beat 13,000 applicants and had recently gone to space.

Helen Sharman recently with her Sokol spacesuit

Helen Sharman recently with her Sokol spacesuit

Even at the age of 6, I didn’t understand why nobody around me was talking about her mission. She had launched only a couple of years ago when I was 3 but I had never heard about it at school or on TV. I didn’t understand why this woman wasn’t treated like a star and talked about everywhere, possibly naively. I managed to find every scrap of information I could find about her. In an age before the internet I went to library after library (shuttled by my parents), reading about her story in small paragraphs as part of a larger book on space. What she was to me, even though I didn’t know it yet, was a role model. She had showed me that my dreams were possible. Even when I had wonderful supportive parents and teachers encouraging my interests, space went from an interest over the next few years to a career. Knowing that there had been a British astronaut, female at that, helped me push through any negativity around my chosen career path when I was younger. Even if the career councillor at school wanted me to become a dentist, I knew that I wanted to be an astronaut, or at least work in human spaceflight. And eventually I did, even working with the next British ESA astronaut Tim Peake at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany along with supporting astronauts on the ISS. But I wouldn’t have had that impetus and drive if I hadn’t known that someone had come before me. There had been a female British astronaut and maybe there could be again. Here was a British woman involved in human spaceflight and that had flown to space. It was possible.

The importance of role models at a young age is immeasurable. Which is why I’m so excited for Tim Peake’s flight and the fact that Helen Sharman is finally being talked about 24 years on from her mission. The outreach for Tim’s Principia mission by the UK Space Agency has been amazing and has the highest budget of any ESA astronaut mission. Tim and his Principia mission will hopefully go on to inspire the next generation to reach for the stars and follow their dreams in space, knowing that it is indeed possible.

Fulfilling a lifelong dream at the age of 23. Working with Astronaut Tim Peake at the European Space Agency's (ESA) European Astronaut Centre (EAC).

Fulfilling a lifelong dream at the age of 23. Working with Astronaut Tim Peake at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Astronaut Centre (EAC).

Today the first British European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Tim Peake launched to the ISS with London’s Science Museum hosting 2000 jubilant children following his every move. Simply fantastic. In less than 5 years the UK has gone from not contributing to Human Spaceflight through ESA, to having a high profile British astronaut launch to the ISS supported by a sustainable National Space Strategy, a first for the UK. That’s something to be proud about. Tim’s carrying a whole nation’s dreams with him but most importantly inspiring thousands of children to consider a career in space and follow in his footsteps. I wonder how many children watched the launch today and decided that they wanted to be the next Tim Peake?

A smiling Tim Peake, First British ESA Astronaut, gives a thumbs up launching to the ISS on 15th December 2015

A smiling Tim Peake, First British ESA Astronaut, gives a thumbs up launching to the ISS on 15th December 2015

Science Spotlight

Science Spotlight – 50 Years of Spacewalking

3 June, 2015

NASA Astronaut Edward H. White Conducting the First US EVA on June 3, 1965

50 years ago on this day, Edward White stepped out of his Gemini spacecraft into the vacuum of space and made history, becoming the first spacewalking American astronaut. Spacewalks are inherently risky endeavours summed up by NASA Astronaut Butch Wilmore as simply “being in the vacuum of space and attached by a little metal tether”, all the while orbiting the Earth at 17,100 mph exposed to Micrometeroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD). Ed White’s spacewalk,  taking place 77 days after the first EVA (Extravehicular Activity) by Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, could possibly be described as one of the riskiest of all and set the precedent for the future of the space program. A spacewalk is performed outside the protective environment of a space habitat or vehicle. To survive the vacuum environment, the human body needs to be in a pressurised enclosure, which is precisely what an EVA suit (spacesuit) is, alongside a life support system. It’s essentially an anthropomorphic, mini spacecraft with the complexity of a large spacecraft. The design of an EVA suit may seem simple at first sight since they are covered with a fabric thermal micrometeoroid garment, but it is in fact one of the most complex technological developments to carry out.

Future spacesuit designers need to provide crew members with a comfortable interior pressure, sufficient flexibility, mobility and microclimate for a range of EVA activities, whilst minimising the risk of suit decompression. In case of an emergency, the suit needs to be able to be worn and removed with ease and rapidly whilst protecting the crewmember from micrometeoroid penetration or puncture. As NASA says when it comes to spacesuits, “understanding the past and learning from mistakes is the only way to progress”. Once on the surface, the environmental challenges faced on Mars and near-earth asteroid surfaces along with potential EVA durations likely exceeding the cumulative length of every Apollo EVA and would require the design of a versatile and rugged suit.

NASA’s Apollo suits were the first to have plaster hand casts and full body casts created for the crewmembers, improving suit fit. Astronauts today have custom-made EVA gloves only, developed using laser scanning, hand casting, 3D computer modelling, stereo-lithography, laser cutting and CNC machining. To allow mobility, the Apollo suit design ensured that the astronaut could easily translate and flex his fingers even with the tendency of its internal pressure to make it a rigid balloon. This still required significant effort and forearm fatigue due to the glove pressure limited productivity. The Apollo suit was redesigned for the Apollo 15-17 missions to allow the number of lunar surface EVA periods to increase to three and an extension of each EVA to eight hours. Improvements were made in the Apollo suit gloves introducing more bonded and moulded components with an increase in the diameter of the glove wrist disconnect to provide greater wrist comfort and making them easier to wear.  With the lunar rover vehicle (LRV) used for the first time during Apollo 15, the spacesuit needed additional waist mobility and improvements to the integrated micrometeoroid garment (ITMG) in its abrasion resistance against the effects of lunar dust.

 

Astronaut Jack Schmitt conducting EVA activities at the Apollo 17 landing site. Note the heavily dust covered suit especially near the boots and lower arms. [NASA, 2002]

Lunar dust proved to be a significant problem for the Apollo missions due to it’s highly abrasive nature and caused problems including coating the suits causing seal failures, abrasion and irritation when inhaled by the crew. Lunar dust compromised the ability of the astronauts to re-seal their suits after an EVA, with Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad’s suit after his EVA developing a leak rate of 0.25 psi/min, just below the safety limit of 0.30 psi/min. A 3rd EVA would likely not have been possible if needed. The environmental lunar sample seals also failed resulting in sample contamination. The lunar dust was so abrasive that the astronauts’ suits were worn through the outer layer and into the Mylar multi-layer insulation above the boot. Dust scratched the Apollo 16 suits’ gauge dials to leave them unreadable. The abrasive effect of lunar dust on spacesuit and seals is a major problem for long-duration missions where habitat airlocks or spacesuits will be sealed on a regular basis and needs to be taken into account during future suit design.
ISS shuttle.png

The enhanced EVA suit (left) currently used on the International Space Station (ISS) was developed with the requirement that the number of EVAs required for ISS construction would be greater than all of the previous spacewalks conducted by all of the world’s space programmes. The financial constraints relating to the U.S.’s contribution to the ISS program meant that the Shuttle EMU was upgraded rather than developing a new concept. The new enhanced suit provided easier on-orbit sizing and improved custom glove fitting with a heating system.

Lessons are still being learnt to this day, with a major issue discovered within the suits recently. During an EVA on 16th July 2013, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano felt water inside his helmet on the back of his head. The amount of water in the helmet increased migrated from the back of his head onto his face. The EVA was terminated early and the crew re-entered the ISS allowing the suit to be removed. Luca also reported impaired visibility and had to breathe with water covering his eyes, nose, and ears. He also had audio communication issues because of the water and had to rely on manually feeling his safety tether’s cable, attaching him to the ISS structure, for pathway directions back to the airlock rather than relying on his sight. It’s the closest call to this date during an ISS EVA with the amount of water in the helmet estimated to be 1-1.5 litres. This particular issue had been caused by a failure of the fan/pump/separator component within the spacesuit, which was subsequently replaced. Astronauts also now install a Helmet Absorption Pad (HAP) inside their helmets to absorb potential water that may enter their helmet. Along with regular glove inspections during an EVA, astronauts will also carry out HAP inspections to feel whether the HAP is “squishy” (A NASA technical term) indicating that it may be holding 200 milliliters of water at the minimum. Up to 600 to 800mL of water can be held by the pad, giving the crew time to return to the safety of the airlock. Water Line Vent Tubes or snorkels have also been installed inside the suit using velcro allowing the crew to breathe from the drier Torso Section of the suit in case of a serious mishap .

EVA30 water.png

Water visible in NASA Astronaut Terry Virts’ helmet post his 25th February spacewalk [NASA TV Screenshot]

In February this year, astronaut Terry Virts also reported water in his helmet when back in the ISS airlock post-EVA, during repressurization caused by sublimator water carryover. Water present in the suit’s sublimator cooling component can condense as the suit is repressurized after a spacewalk. This caused a small amount of water to push into Virts’ helmet however this is now a known and NASA accepted EVA risk. Tackling these issues related to EVA suit design including the effect of lunar dust and glove design will be a challenge, but is currently being investigated.

EVA is a proven capability for meeting mission objectives and is critical to the ISS, with a current total of 1159 hours 8 minutes of EVA having been completed in ISS maintenance and assembly. The lessons learned over the last 50 years of spacewalking are essential to develop a future EVA suit for long-duration human exploration missions including a mission to Mars, needing to withstand the deep-space and Martian environments.

Astronauts, Inspirational women

Happy Birthday to NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams!

19 September, 2012

A very Happy Birthday to NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams! Sunita’s celebrating her birthday onboard the International Space Station (ISS), which she became Commander of last week, becoming only the second female commander in ISS history. During an EVA (spacewalk) last week, Sunita also gained the world record for the longest time spent spacewalking by a female (cumulative). Overtaking 39 hours and 46 minutes. When told of her achievement by Mission Control (MCC Houston) during the spacewalk, Suni said that it was a “matter of circumstance, time and place” and that “anybody could be in these boots”. Suni took over the record from Peggy Whitson, who sent her a message during the EVA congratulating her on this accomplishment. Peggy stated that it was an honour to handover  – ending the message with You Go Girl!

Sunita also holds the world record for the most hours spent in orbit by a female. Well Done Suni!! She also completed a triathlon in space last weekend! The activity was timed to coincide with the Nautica Malibu Triathlon held in Southern California. Sunita “swam” half a mile using the strength resistance training machine onboard the ISS, cycled for 18 miles and ran for 4 miles! Creating an offworld record of 1 hour, 48 minutes and 33 seconds! Amazing! Astronauts onboard exercise for 2 hours a day using equipment including a stationary bike and treadmill. They are tethered to the machines using harnesses and straps to keep them in position. Exercise is essential for the astronauts to prevent physical deconditioning. Bone and muscle loss otherwise can occur increasingly due to the weightless environment.

Sunita is truly an inspiration to me and also to women around the world!

ISS crew celebrating the birthday of Suni’s beloved Jack Russell Terrier Gorby last week! (Image Copyright: Fragile Oasis)

P.S. Photos below are of the tool that Sunita Williams and Akihido Hoshide used to install a new electrical Main Bus Switching Unit (MBSU) to relay power on the station. A second unscheduled spacewalk was needed last week for the activity, during which the astronauts used the tools they made on the ISS themselves to fix the station.

Complete ingenuity!!

Saving the day:

The tool that fixed the ISS! [Copyright: NASA]

Tools used during the EVA [Copyright: NASA]

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, appears to touch the bright sun during the mission’s third session of extravehicular activity (EVA) on Sept. 5, 2012.

ISS Commander Sunita Williams during last week’s EVA (NASA)

 

Sunita also recently took viewers on a tour of the ISS!