Spacewalkers take extra safety precautions for toxic ammonia

by Jeremy

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Spacewalking astronauts had to take extra safety precautions Saturday after possibly getting toxic ammonia on their suits from the International Space Station’s external cooling system.

Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins had no trouble removing and venting a couple of old jumper cables to remove any ammonia lingering in the lines. But so much ammonia spewed out of the first hose that Mission Control worried some of the frozen white flakes might have gotten on their suits.

Hopkins was surprised at the amount of ammonia unleashed into the vacuum of space. “Oh yeah, look at that go. Did you see that?” he asked flight controllers. “There’s more than I thought.”Even though the stream of ammonia was directed away from the astronauts and the space station, Hopkins said some icy crystals may have contacted his helmet. As a result, Mission Control said it was going to “be conservative” and require inspections.

The astronauts’ first suit check found nothing amiss. “Looks clean,” Hopkins called down.

NASA did not want any ammonia getting inside the space station and contaminating the cabin atmosphere. The astronauts used long tools to vent the hoses and stayed clear of the nozzles to reduce the risk of ammonia contact. If necessary, the spacewalkers could spend extra time basking in the sunlight before heading back inside to bake off any residue.

Once the hoses were emptied, the astronauts moved one of them to a more central location near the NASA hatch, if needed, on the opposite end of the station.

The ammonia jumper cables were added years ago following a cooling system leak.

The hose work should have been completed during a spacewalk a week ago but was put off with other odd jobs when power upgrades took longer than expected. Saturday’s other chores included: replacing an antenna for helmet cameras, rerouting ethernet cables, tightening connections on a European experiment platform, and installing a metal ring on the thermal hatch cover.

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