NASA has canceled a planned spacewalk by astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer after being alerted to a small debris alert from one of the space agency’s more than 1,000 man-made satellites.
“We had this alert back at the end of August, and we considered it serious enough to make the call,” Steven Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said Monday morning.
Fischer and Whitson were scheduled to spacewalk outside the International Space Station Saturday, but further research led the flight director to propose the postponement.
“The path of debris remains such that we’re not in a position to continue the planned spacewalk,” said Dan Huot, NASA’s space station flight director.
The spacewalk was scheduled to last seven hours and was scheduled to remove a “connector” that connects two devices that photograph the exterior of the space station. These images, and the video from them, help NASA better understand the development of space junk and contribute to efforts to clean up the orbital environment, according to NASA.
NASA on Monday explained that the “connector” removes most large pieces of space debris from the space station’s exterior.
“This connector and the associated arm dish can be clogged, and the debris path takes a straight path into the high-gain antenna and out of space,” NASA stated on its website. “The space station is hard enough to contend with normal debris,” added Jennifer Irwin, the agency’s chief engineer for the space station.
Due to the larger than expected “object,” NASA will not be able to remove the connection, so the astronauts will stay inside and work on other jobs.
The space station is currently in the fourth quarter of its “operational life,” as NASA refers to it, and there are two components on the orbiting laboratory that have been around for more than 25 years.
Since 1967, when the orbiting laboratory was completed, the spacewalks have been remarkably successful. In November 2015, the first spacewalk to install the ammonia coolant system was conducted. In August 2016, the second spacewalk was to take down the troublesome Russian antenna.
“The last two years have seen a huge boom in EVA (extra-vehicular activity) [equipment] performance,” Irwin said.
Saturday’s spacewalk will not be the last. NASA plans for more to be performed by Whitson in the near future.