NASA Lifts Brief Ban on U.S. Spacewalks

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.)

NASA lifteda brief ban on U.S. spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS) Thursdayafter engineers cleared the orbital laboratory's spacesuits of potentialfire-hazards, space agency officials said.

Thedecision allows ISS Expedition 16 commanderPeggy Whitson and flight engineer Dan Tani to proceed with preparations fortwo critical spacewalks next week to continue space station construction.

NASA temporarilysuspended U.S. spacewalks earlier this week after an astronaut smelledsmoke inside a U.S. spacesuit - known as an ExtravehicularMobility Unit (EMU) - during a ground test at the agency's Johnson SpaceCenter (JSC) in Houston, Texas. The ban was largely a precaution in case theincident was due to a generic flaw in NASA spacesuits.

"They hadoverwhelming data that showed there was no evidence of a combustion event,"NASA spokesperson Lynette Madison, of JSC, told

Whileengineers have not completely identified root cause of the Earth-based suit'ssmoky odor, the leading candidate is the specific canister used to sift carbondioxide from the EMU's 100 percent oxygen interior, she added.

Butengineers were able to clear the spacesuits to be used by Whitson and Taniduring their planned Nov. 20 and Nov. 24 spacewalks of any concerns.

"The EMUs have the go for spacewalk use," statedan ISS Expedition 16 status report issued today. Because of the high flammability ofa spacesuit's oxygen-rich atmosphere, NASA takes any hint of smoke orcombustion seriously to ensure the safety of spacewalking astronauts.

Whitson andTani recharged the water supplies for their EMUs while working aboard the spacestation earlier today. Two cooling system radiators were also deployed outsidethe ISS. The Expedition 16 crew plans to outfit the station's recently installedHarmony module with cooling and power lines during the upcoming spacewalks,which will cap a busy month of work tomove the school bus-sized connecting node to its final perch at thefront of the outpost's U.S. Destiny laboratory.

Madisonsaid NASA also approved plans today to go ahead with a series of spacewalks scheduledfor December's STS-122 shuttle mission to attach the European-built Columbuslaboratory to one of Harmony's multiple docking ports. The Italian-builtHarmony node is designed to serve as the anchor for European and Japaneselaboratories at the ISS.

Commandedby veteran shuttle astronaut Stephen Frick, the seven STS-122 astronauts areslated to launch toward the ISS aboard the Atlantis orbiter on Dec. 6 to begintheir 11-day construction mission.

A preliminarymeeting found the mission to be on track for its December launch earlier thisweek, with a final flight readiness review set for Nov. 30, NASA spokespersonKyle Herring said.

NASA will broadcast the Expedition 16 crew's second spacewalk outside theISS live on NASA TV on Nov. 20 beginning at 5:00 a.m. EST (1000 GMT). Click here for's ISSmission updates and NASA TV feed.

  • VIDEO: ISS Commander Peggy Whitson Takes Charge
  • NEW IMAGES: Discovery's STS-120 Mission in Pictures
  • VIDEO Interplayer: STS-120 Mission Brings 'Harmony' to ISS


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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.