CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – Space suit problems have prevented astronauts from completing the installation of powerful, new solar panels in front of the International Space Station.
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbro met a pair of spacesuits in the middle of a seven-hour space voyage, forcing him to temporarily retreat back to the airlock to reset his equipment. The break left Kimbro and French astronaut Thomas Pesque an hour behind, after which they had trouble trying to deploy the arrows on the solar panel before time finally ran out.
The two are due to retire on Sunday. But it is unclear whether this will slow down, or the astronauts will finish work on the first solar panel or start on the second.
NASA wants to activate the aging space station as demand for visitors grows. But there is no urgency to do so, said Mission Control commentator Rob Navias, with the old solar panels providing enough energy for now. They will continue to work in a deteriorated state, even after the new ones start and work.
Mission Control emphasized that Kimbro was safe at all times, despite problems with the control panel on the display of his suit and a fleeting jump in pressure in the cooling system. His control panel turned on again, and Mission Control continued to monitor the cooling system of his suit.
“We just want to be super safe here,” Mission Control said.
It was the first in a series of space voyages to equip an aging orbital outpost with six smaller but stronger sun wings. The electric boost is needed to accommodate paying passengers who are expected to leave, starting with a Russian film crew this fall.
NASA has introduced additional safety measures as Kimbro and Peske worked on the station’s primary power grid to avoid electric shock. The duo conducted the most dangerous parts of the space travel on Earth’s night side to prevent the station’s old solar panels from absorbing sunlight and generating energy. The metal surfaces of their spacesuits were covered to avoid contact.
Launched by SpaceX earlier this month, the first of these new solar panels will run in parallel with the plant’s oldest power plant wings, in continuous operation for more than 20 years.
The astronauts had to attach the assembled sun wing – 10 feet long and 4 feet wide (3 meters long and 1 meter wide) – to the work site at the far left end of the station. They were able to secure it in place, but were unable to unfold the arrows due to a problem in the mounting bracket.
Once installed properly, the solar panel is designed to be rolled out like a 19-foot-long red carpet.
NASA wants to keep the space station conducting research during this decade, and space tourists will further tax the energy system. A Russian film director and actress is due to visit in October for filming, followed by wealthy entrepreneurs starting in Kazakhstan and Cape Canaveral as part of a push to open up the private space market.
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