NASA: Spacesuit's Smoky Smell Prompts Spacewalk Ban

NASA: Spacesuit's Smoky Smell Prompts Spacewalk Ban
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Expedition 16 commander, works with an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit in the Quest Airlock of the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA.)

NASAimposed a hiatus on spacewalks this week as engineers hunt for the source of smoke-likesmell in a U.S. spacesuit used in a recent ground test.

Theself-imposed ban was prompted by an apparent U.S. spacesuit glitch during aFriday test at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, space agencyofficials said. It could be lifted as early as this week, clearing the way for astronautsto stage twoplanned spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS) next week,they added.

"Sofar, they have not found any evidence of a combustion event, and not found anyhardware damage," NASA spokesperson Brandi Dean told SPACE.comTuesday.

Accordingto a Monday ISS status report, an astronaut smelled a smoke-like smell inside aNASA spacesuit while working inside a test-version of the station's U.S. Quest airlock.The exercise is a standard activity to familiarize ISS astronauts with NASA's ExtravehicularMobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits, Dean said.

"Duringthe test, the astronaut smelled just a little bit of smoke," Dean said,adding that even a slight odor is cause for concern given the spacesuit's 100percent oxygen environment. "They got the crewmember out of there in lessthan a minute."

NASAimposed a ban on all U.S. spacewalks as a precaution in case Friday's glitchwas a sign of a generic flaw in the agency's spacesuits.

"Thus,the on-orbit EMUs are No Go," stated Monday's status report.

Engineershave performed a series of tests on the afflicted spacesuit and examined itshistory to root out the origin of the smoke-like smell. Some possible sourcesinclude the suit's carbon dioxide-scrubbing canister and the off-gassing ofheated materials, though additional analysis is still under way, Dean said.

Spacesuitengineers will present their findings to a mishap investigation board onWednesday, she added.

NASA hopesto clear its U.S. spacesuits for use soon to allow ISS Expedition16 commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Dan Tani to step outside thespace station on Nov. 20 and Nov. 24 on a pair of critical spacewalks to attachcooling and power system lines to the Harmony connecting node.

The astronautswill move the node and its recentlyattached shuttle docking port to the front of the station's U.S. Destinylaboratory early Wednesday using the space station's robotic arm.

Any lengthydelays to Expedition 16 crew's planned spacewalks next week could stall analready hefty work schedule to ready the ISS for NASA's planned Dec. 6 launchof the shuttle Atlantis to deliver the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory.NASA is already working to cull five days' worth of work from the stationcrew's schedule to allow Atlantis's STS-122 crew to launch during December'sslim, one-week window.

"Themain thing is getting the flight rationale," Dean said, adding that onceNASA engineers agree on that, the space station should be once again clear for spacewalksin U.S. spacesuits.

NASAwill broadcast the Harmony node?s move to the tip of the Destiny lab live onNASA TV beginning at 4:30 a.m. EST (0930 GMT). Click here for ISS mission updatesand NASA TV feed.

  • VIDEO: ISS Commander Peggy Whitson Takes Charge
  • VIDEO Interplayer: STS-120 Mission Brings 'Harmony' to ISS
  • Complete ISS Expedition Coverage


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.