Cosmonaut Reports Heat, Smell From Backpack
Where there's smoke... well, NASA
isn't sure. A trainee working inside a spacesuit during a
pressure-chamber test last week reported smelling smoke inside the
suit, and that report could spell trouble for next month's planned
launch of the shuttle Atlantis.
Citing an anonymous source, MSNBC says rookie Russian cosmonaut
Mikhail Korniyenko, 47, also reported "heat behind his neck,"
coming from the suit's backpack-mounted life-support system during
a training exercise Friday. The test was quickly aborted, and the
cosmonaut was hauled to safety as technicians retrieved the suspect
An internal NASA memo says experts are working around the clock
to determine the cause of the smell, but so far have come up empty.
That's good news, as it appears there is little risk for a
catastrophic fire; it's also bad news, as space isn't kind of the
environment where you want to face unexplainable problems.
And that means, for the time being, two spacewalks planned
during Atlantis' mission next month to the International Space
Station are reportedly on hold. Without the spacewalks -- needed to
attach the Columbus module to the station -- there's little reason
to launch Atlantis.
Extravehicular activities onboard the ISS -- like the kind
conducted by Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson and cosmonaut
Yuri Malenchenko last Friday -- are also forbidden for the time
being, as NASA works on the problem.
In the best-case scenario, NASA will soon isolate the cause for
the reported smoke-smell, and determine it doesn't affect the suits
already onboard the ISS. There is a chance, however, the smell
points to a previously-unknown problem with the suits... one that
may take months to fix.
Such an issue would delay future shuttle flights for the time
being, as well as further EVAs, unless a method is found to adapt
the Russian Orlan spacesuits onboard the station for extended EVA
NASA expects a decision on whether to clear the suits by
Thursday, according to spacesuit division chief Steve Doering.