Why are pencils dangerous in space?

Space suits: Russia is one step ahead of the US

Washington / Moscow - Space technology sounds like the future, but actually there is a lot of the past in it. NASA's space shuttles flew with on-board computers, which at the end of the shuttle era could only be regarded as hopelessly outdated and correspondingly inefficient. The Russian Soyuz program is based on technology that dates back to Soviet times and attempts have been made to modernize it again and again through minor adaptations.

And the spacesuits that must be worn by the crew of the International Space Station during field operations are not exactly the latest craze: "The spacesuits that the astronauts are currently using on the ISS were developed more than 40 years ago and actually have theirs on A design lifespan of 15 years has been far exceeded, "said a team of experts from the US space agency Nasa recently.

"The life of astronauts depends on spacesuits that enable them to work safely in extreme environments," said the investigation report by the NASA inspector general. The older the current spacesuits get, the greater the risks.

The drama about Parmitano

This was shown dramatically in the case of the Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano five years ago. Like all European astronauts so far, he wore a US suit when he was out in the field, and it almost became his undoing: first a carbon dioxide sensor in his spacesuit no longer worked, then he felt water on the back of his head. Eventually water ran down his face.

Parmitano got away with the horror, but the mission had to be broken off and the spacesuits were then meticulously inspected. A clogged pump was identified as the likely cause. The accident revealed the critical condition of the US spacesuits.

The status quo

Every space suit, including gloves and helmet, weighs 127 kilograms on earth - which is irrelevant in the weightlessness of space. The suits protect the astronauts against the extreme temperatures between minus 160 and plus 120 degrees and are white to reflect sunlight. At the same time, the suits, which consist of more than a dozen layers, must protect the space travelers from radiation.

The donning of the suits after an exact final check takes about three quarters of an hour and cannot be done without help from colleagues. There are currently four spacesuits on board the ISS, said NASA spokesman Kyle Herring. "In terms of size, they can be adapted to any astronaut. They come from the era of the space shuttles and are cleaned, tested and reused after each outdoor use."

New generation

NASA is currently developing new suits - but it could take a few years before they are ready for testing. Russia is already one step further and has produced the "Orlan ISS" suit, a new model with an automatic cooling system. A warning signal indicates when liquids are leaking. The Russian space agency Roskosmos promises new materials to make the space suit more durable.

The youngest Outdoor use At the ISS, Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Prokopjew were floating in space in their new suits - other cosmonauts had already worn them when they got off the ISS. US astronauts can also try out the new model during space travel training in the so-called Star City near Moscow. Another Orlan ISS is to be delivered to the space station in the coming year. (red, APA, December 13, 2018)