Details on the spacewalk yesterday


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William Harwood of CBS News and Spaceflight Now provides a very detailed and clearly written description of the problems experienced during Saturday’s spacewalk, as well as the options faced by NASA to overcome them.

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  • I watched this spacewalk. First, there was no problem with the ammonia leak. They expected it and the standard procedure is to check for ammonia on the suit near the neckline and the hands before pressurizing the airlock – that is, it’s only a hazard inside the station. It’s not like the stuff eats through suits and they had to scramble back inside, and no-one who watched the spacewalk could get that impression.

    Now, I understand why no-one watched this spacewalk before writing their articles, it was the usual incredibly boring NASA tv. Have you ever asked yourself why this stuff is so boring? Some people have trouble pinning it down, others, typically those who have never seen a spacewalk before, notice it right away: the astronauts don’t make any decisions. They get told what to do continuously – they might as well be robots. Around the point my wife went to bed ground control was telling Wheelock to get that stupid special purpose tool out of his toolbag, when it didn’t work they told him to put it back in his toolbag, then they told him to try hammering the button on the valve, then they told him to get the tool out of the toolbag, then they told him how to apply the tool to the levers, then they told him to put the tool back in the toolbag. OMG just use your hands!!

    Compare this to a Russian spacewalk. They go out the airlock with a particular schedule in mind which is more like a laundry list of tasks. *They decide* which to do first and how to do it. You see them pull out a regular $100 socket set and remove a bunch of bolts that they just leave floating in front of themselves. All of this is through a zoom lens from a fixed camera and yet you can see everything that is going on just fine. Ground control radios up *garble* *garble* *garble*, the cosmonauts have a couple of laughs over how terrible the comms are. Then you hear “you are 15 minutes behind schedule” and the cosmonauts reply “do you want to come up here and do it?” more laughs. The work gets done and the cosmonauts go back to the airlock.

    It’s all those years of experience right? Perhaps, but the Russian spacewalk last month was one rookie and one “veteran” of a single other spacewalk. Yes, they’re trained but more importantly, they’re in control so they are free to do a good job.

    NASA could learn a lot from the Russian space program. We’ve been saying this for 40+ years now. If humanity is to ever go beyond Earth orbit on long duration missions, ground control needs to start trusting astronauts to make the right decisions.

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