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Spacesuits crunch

Andrew Griffin | New Delhi |

Nasa is running low on spacesuits and might not have a replacement for many years. The agency is quickly running low on the kit, which is absolutely necessary for any future space travel. And its plans to make a next generation space suit are going too slowly, according to a new report from the agency’s Office of Inspector General.

A lack of a formal plan and destinations for travel have held back development, according to the report. Nasa has also had funding for such work slashed, leaving it without the resources to develop new suits.

Nasa is left with only 11 of the 18 original suits that include life-supporting backpacks. That might not be enough to carry it through until the station’s retirement in 2024, let alone a possible extension until 2028, the report stated. And already, astronauts have been experiencing problems with suits. One of those was almost fatal, when an astronaut almost drowned after the cooling system in his backpack leaked into the helmet and flooded it with water.

That was one of 3,400 mostly minor incidents with the suits, some of which have also included astronauts feeling burning or stinging in their hands and eyes during spacewalks.

As the spacewalking suits age, “Nasa must deal with a dwindling number of flight-ready spacesuits and with mitigating risks related to their design and maintenance”, the report said.

Nasa needs a formal plan, especially if it hopes to test a new suit before the space station ends operation in 2024, the report concluded. It also needs to compare the cost of maintaining the current crop of suits with developing new ones.

Nasa’s next spacewalk is set for 12 May. Veteran spacewalker Peggy Whitson will venture outside with newcomer Jack Fischer.

Andrew Griffin/The Independent