On Tuesday, two astronauts were due to leave the International Space Station (ISS) for a space walk. The goal was to replace a broken antenna outside the structure. However, due to the risk of being hit by drifting nearby “garbage”, NASA decided to postpone the work. It is possible that these are shrapnels, which were the result of a test of Russian rockets. However, the American space agency did not specify it in Tuesday’s announcement.
NASA has postponed the space walk of two astronauts on the International Space Station scheduled for Tuesday. It is not known when it will be held yet.
They were blocked by rubble
Astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron were due to go outside the station to replace a damaged antenna. However, it turned out that there is a risk of contact with nearby drifting debris. Therefore, five hours before the planned start of the walk, NASA decided to postpone the operation.
“NASA received a notification about the debris in the vicinity of the space station. Due to the inability to properly assess the risks they may pose to astronauts, it was decided to postpone the space walk from November 30 until more information was obtained,” the International Space Station reported on Twitter.
How close the debris got to the space station was unclear. The press release did not confirm whether these “shrapnels” were left over from the Russian missile test.
They were going to fix the antenna
The purpose of the space walk was to remove a broken antenna that is more than 20 years old. The astronauts were to install a new one in its place. The malfunctioning antenna has lost its ability to send signals back to Earth. Although other devices on the space station may perform the same function, the mission management decided to install new equipment.
Marshburn and Barron have been on the ISS since November 11. They arrived at the station together with Matthias Maurer and Raja Charim in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, Florida. Since then, there are seven astronauts on the ISS – apart from the four mentioned above, there are also Anton Szkaplerow, Piotr Dubrow (both from Roscosmos) and Mark Vande Hei (NASA).
The risk was too great
Four days later, on November 15, Russia – without notice – conducted an anti-satellite missile test that generated a debris field in low Earth orbit. The entire ISS crew then took refuge in docked spacecraft so that they could evacuate as soon as possible.
As Dana Weigel, NASA’s director of spaceflight, said, the cloud of debris has dispersed since then. However, the agency calculated that what was left still posed “slightly increased risks” to the space station and to astronauts. It was estimated that the risk of piercing their suits after a possible exit from the ISS was up to seven percent. Experts judged it to be too high.
Weigel added that in order for NASA to set another date for the walk, it is also necessary to fully recognize the additional threats that may be posed by more than 1,700 larger fragments of rock orbiting the ISS.
Main photo source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (CC BY 2.0)