Spacewalk cut short by issue with Russian cosmonaut’s spacesuit: ‘Drop everything and start going back right away’

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A spacewalk was cut short just a few hours into what was intended to be a nearly seven-hour spacewalk after a Russian cosmonaut was repeatedly ordered to drop what he was working on and return to the International Space Station’s airlock because of an issue with his spacesuit.

NASA officials said during a livestream that the cosmonaut, Oleg Artemyev, was never in any danger. Still, issues with the battery pack that powers his spacesuit were concerning enough for flight controllers to urgently order him to return to the space station and attach his suit to ISS power. The battery issues were causing “voltage fluctuations” in Artemyev’s spacesuit, according to commentary on the spacewalk livestream.

Officials on the ground gave Artemyev several warnings that he needed to return to the airlock.

“Drop everything and start going back right away,” was one of the last dispatches from the ground before Artemyev confirmed he was headed for the airlock. A few minutes later, he was able to re-enter the space station and hook his suit up to its power.

Cosmonaut Denis Matveev, who was working alongside Artemyev on the spacewalk, remained just outside the space station’s airlock for more than an hour until flight controllers decided to end the spacewalk early because of Artemyev’s spacesuit issues.

A Russian translator said on the livestream that Artemyev jokingly told flight controllers that he felt “better than when he started the spacewalk” after returning to the ISS.

The goal of Wednesday’s spacewalk was for the two cosmonauts, Artemyev and Matveev, to install two cameras on the new European robotic arm, which is affixed to the space station’s exterior on a Russian-controlled portion of the ISS.

Spacewalks are regular occurrences on the ISS, as astronauts and cosmonauts — the Russian term for astronaut — routinely need to exit the space station for maintenance, science experiments and other tasks. More than 250 spacewalks have been conducted outside the orbiting laboratory since it entered service about two decades ago, and they typically go off without a hitch.

This was the seventh spacewalk for Artemyev and the third for Matveev. Both men were wearing Russian-made Orlan spacesuits. There are also US-made EMU, or Extravehicular Mobility Unit, spacesuits onboard the ISS for spacewalks.

Both types of suits are designed to be entirely self-contained, providing all the air providing the sole barrier between astronauts and the deadly vacuum of space during spacewalks. They’re equipped with communications equipment, ventilation, and enough air for the astronauts to breathe for hours on end.

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