A pair of NASA astronauts breezed through a spacewalk to install cables and antennas at the International Space Station on Sunday, days after water pooled up in the helmet of one of the astronauts at the end of the previous spacewalk.
The helmet problem that NASA astronaut Terry Virts experienced last Wednesday sparked concern because a bigger buildup of water almost drowned a spacewalker in his helmet in 2013. The issue didn't affect Sunday's outing, but Virts said extra water seeped in again when the spacewalk was over. "It's not a big deal, just a small film on the visor," he said.
NASA said Virts was in no danger, either on Wednesday or on Sunday.
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Virts and NASA crewmate Barry "Butch" Wilmore finished what was expected to be more than six and a half hours' worth of work more than an hour early. "You guys have done an outstanding job, even for two shuttle pilots," spacewalk choreographer Sunita Williams told the duo from Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas.
During the last of three spacewalks that were conducted over the course of eight days, Virts and Wilmore installed communication antennas and ran about 400 feet of cable along the station's exterior. The work is part of a months-long effort to install new docking mechanisms.
Those mechanisms would be used by the commercial "space taxis" now being developed by Boeing and SpaceX to carry crew for NASA, starting as early as 2017. In the meantime, NASA has to pay the Russians more than $70 million a seat to transport astronauts to and from the station.
NASA's mission managers gave the go-ahead for Sunday's spacewalk after determining that Virts' helmet issue was manageable. They said Virts' spacesuit was known to release a small amount of water condensation into the helmet when the suit is repressurized after a spacewalk. Since the 2013 scare, NASA has been monitoring the spacesuits and their water cooling systems more closely.
— Alan Boyle