NASA Is Running Out of Space Suits for Space Walks
Hope the astronauts of tomorrow don’t feel the need for fresh air. (Well, for more than one reason.)
In spite of President Donald Trump's Mars-shot desires to the contrary, NASA isn't quite at the top of its game these days. America's space agency has been dependent upon the Russians to run personnel up to the International Space Station since the end of the Space Shuttle program a few years back, and the department has been forced to make one tough budget decision after another in order to stay aloft.
On Wednesday, however, NASA's in-house inspector general made an announcement that cast the agency's stressed status in an even harsher light: NASA, it turns out, is running out of space suits.
According to the report issued by the IG's office, the space suits astronauts use for extravehicular activities—colloquially known as "space walks," even though there's very little walking going on in space—aren't doing so well. Over the course of 204 space walks using the suits, 27 "significant incidents" have been reported, according to the report, including terrifying incidents such as "glove damage, uncomfortable body temperatures, and helmet water intrusions."
Hard as it may be to believe, the suits currently being used by NASA's spacewalkers were designed more than four decades ago, and have drastically outlasted their expected 15-year lifespan. With only 11 of the 18 existing life-support units still operational as of today, the report suggests it'll be difficult for the existing supply of space suits to last through the rest of the ISS's projected operational life, as the space station is expected to stay in use until 2024. (And things will be even worse if the world's space agencies decide to keep the ISS open past that.)
Worse yet for NASA, the agency has spent more than $200 million developing new space suits in recent years, but those are nowhere near ready. Indeed, the IG report questions whether the new space walk apparel will be ready in time to be tested on the ISS or for the first planned manned mission of the Orion crew capsule in 2021. (And that's assuming Trump doesn't order the first manned flight moved up.)