Cosmonaut experiences a leak in his spacesuit
On 22 August they began the IVA. Burrough:
In the node, Foale helped Solovyov and Vinogradov into their suits, which were difficult to close without help. Then he swam through the adjoining hatch into the Soyuz. Behind him he locked down the hatch between the Soyuz and the node, then retreated into the command capsule itself and locked down the hatch between the command capsule and the Soyuz’s small living compartment. If for some reason the two cosmonauts were unable to repressurize the node after the EVA, they would be forced to depressurize the Soyuz living compartment, at which point they would enter the Soyuz and evacuate the station. Foale had his own reentry suit ready just in case.
Hovering inside the node in their spacesuits, the two Russians got the go‑ahead from the ground to begin depressurizing.
Everything was finally going as planned. Then, suddenly, at 1:23, just as the pressure reached 210 millimeters of mercury, Vinogradov felt something move inside the left arm of his suit, something feathery and light brushing against his inner forearm. With a start he realized it was air. There was a leak in his suit.
Vinogradov said on open comm: “I started moving my hand and the pressure is going down [in] my suit. When I move, I feel the air is moving.”
Foale was the first to react. “Pavel, stop!” he blurted through his headset. “Stop moving your hand!”
“Stop, stop moving your hand!” Anatoli Solovyov chimed in.
On the TsUP floor, Vladimir Solovyov and his ground controllers exchanged worried looks. “Pavel, don’t move your hand,” Solovyov said calmly.
If Vinogradov moved his hand enough to loosen the glove, all the air in his suit could be sucked out in a matter of minutes. Vladimir Solovyov took several moments to confer with Blagov and the others. As they talked, Foale was struck by Vinogradov’s reaction. “He wasn’t scared by it,” Foale remembered, “but I sure was. I was as worried as I’ve ever been during spaceflight.”
Vinogradov was in fact as frightened as he had been in his life, but he struggled not to show it. He realized the leak was somewhere in the fitting between his glove and his spacesuit. Fighting to remain calm, he took his right hand and grasped his left wrist firmly, trying to staunch the flow of air from his suit. Behind him, Solovyov urged him to stay calm. Even with his glove clamped shut, Vinogradov believed air was still leaking from his suit. He estimated he had about fifteen minutes of air inside his suit.
“Pay attention!” Vladimir Solovyov barked after a moment. “This is very serious.”
This Vinogradov did not need to hear. He knew it was serious.
“Pasha, don’t worry,” Solovyov went on. “Don’t take any steps that are not well thought out… We have time.”
Solovyov directed Vinogradov to close the star‑shaped depress valve. The node was so small, the two men were pressed so tightly together, only Vinogradov could reach it. Awkwardly, he grabbed the valve with his left hand, all the while keeping his right hand clamped around his wrist. Slowly, he managed to crank the valve closed. The ground estimated it would take seven minutes for the air to stop seeping out of the node. Vinogradov hoped the air in his suit would last that long.
Minutes ticked by. The repressurization valve was on Anatoli Solovyov’s side of the node, but the commander could not begin repressurizing the node until Vinogradov’s valve was completely closed. Vinogradov was quietly thankful his glove hadn’t opened further. “If my glove had opened completely,” he recalled months later, “I wouldn’t have been able to close that valve at all. Anatoli could not get to it. Only I could close it. I don’t even know what would have happened then.” But he did know: if the commander couldn’t find a way to close the valve, Vinogradov would suffocate.
After seven minutes the pressure inside the node stabilized. Immediately the commander cranked the emergency repress valve, allowing air from base block to whistle into the node. With a loud hiss the pressure began rising. It took barely ninety seconds for it to climb back to 540.
If they were to have any hope of completing the IVA today, Vladimir Solovyov knew, they must quickly replace Vinogradov’s leaking glove.
“Pasha, do you have a spare glove?” Solovyov asked.
Both cosmonauts had brought bags containing two spare gloves into the node with them. When the pressure reached 540, Vinogradov reached for his bag, took out his extra left glove, and quickly slid it on.
“You turn it, pull it with all your proletarian might, and break it out a little,” Solovyov instructed. “Minimize the amount of time when your hand is bare.”
It was 1:32. Vinogradov took two minutes to make sure the glove’s seal was tight. At 1:34 he announced that he was ready to continue. Vladimir Solovyov did a quick calculation to make sure that, with all the air they had used, there would be enough remaining to fully repressurize the node at the end of the IVA. According to his maths, there was.
“Okay, then let’s start again,” Vladimir Solovyov said.
Again Vinogradov took his left hand and turned the depress valve. The hiss of air filled their ears. In silence, the two cosmonauts waited as the atmosphere leaked back out into space. By 1:47 the pressure had fallen to 460. Five minutes later it was at 110. At 1:54 it had fallen to 50. Five minutes later, as the cosmonauts waited to enter vacuum, the station moved out of communications range with the ground. The men in the TsUP, with hundreds of reporters and cameramen clogging the mezzanine above them, would have to wait forty‑five minutes for Mir to come back into range. In the meantime they could only hope there was not another unexpected problem.
During the IVA they reconnected all the cables except the one which connected Spektr’s solar arrays to the main computer, which meant that Priroda and Kristall remained dark. They couldn’t find the hole either.
On 6 September they made an EVA to find the hole. Burrough:
Crouching inside his Orlan spacesuit in the air lock at the end of Kvant 2, Foale nervously eyed the hatch that led outside the station. Solovyov was right behind him, and at the commander’s urging, he gave the rusty hatch a shove. Apparently some air remained in the air lock, because the hatch sprang out forcefully, banging back onto its hinges. Hanging on to the hatch, Foale was jerked outside the station along with it.
“Whoa!” he said.
Regaining his composure, Foale quickly moved onto the ladder outside the station. Unlike Linenger, he felt no sensation of falling; Foale had walked in space aboard the shuttle and loved spacewalking. He and Solovyov had spent hours diagramming their work. Their six‑hour spacewalk was fairly straightforward. They were to make their way to Spektr’s outer hull, check it for punctures, and construct handrails for later repair work. If they had time, they were to perform a minor repair on the Vozdukh system and retrieve a small radiation monitor.
Foale, ignoring Linenger’s “razor‑sharp” solar arrays, quickly made his way down the length of Kvant 2 and crawled onto base block, where he straddled the crane at the base of the Strela arm. Behind him Solovyov muscled out a large bag containing the scaffolding they were to assemble on Spektr. It took just over an hour for Solovyov to maneuver his way to the Strela arm, straddle its far end, and have Foale move him across open space to Spektr. At the Star City hydrolab, Foale had practiced using the Strela arm exactly once and wasn’t at all sure he could do what was needed; as it turned out, the crane proved easy to operate.
Once at Spektr, Solovyov wasted no time. The TsUP had identified seven possible places the coin‑size puncture might be located. Solovyov quickly took out a knife and began cutting through the foam insulation that covered portions of Spektr’s outer hull. For ninety minutes, while Foale waited at the Strela’s base, Solovyov methodically carved up the insulation near the impact area. The Mylar material kept fluffing up as he cut. “I should have taken scissors but not a knife,” he said at one point.
It is, in fact, an impossible job, akin to finding a lost coin in a junk heap.
After two hours Solovyov gave up. There was no hole, at least none he could see. “It is strange – to rumple this way and destroy nothing,” he said.
A little before eight Foale shimmied down the Strela arm and joined the commander, who moved farther out on Spektr’s hull. He spent the last hour of the EVA manually rotating the three undamaged solar arrays to a position where they would more fully face the Sun. In this way the TsUP hoped to regain more power from the damaged module.
By ten both men were back in the air lock. Solovyov’s hunt for the puncture had gone on so long they had no time to erect the scaffolding – which they left tethered outside Spektr – or work on the Vozdukh system. It was Foale’s job to close the outer hatch, and for some reason Vladimir Solovyov wanted him to work faster.
“Hurry, Michael, hurry,” he said.
But Foale sensed something was wrong. The hatch didn’t feel right when it closed.
“Hurry,” he heard someone say.
“Look, guys, you’re rushing me,” Foale said. “This does not feel right. I have to reopen the hatch and do this again.”
Foale took an extra minute to make sure the hatch closed tightly, his sixth sense proving to be on target. It was the last time Mir’s outer hatch ever worked correctly .
The computer crashed twice more before Foale left Mir in October.
NASA administrator David Goldin confirmed that Phase One would continue.
The last NASA astronaut to live aboard Mir was Andy Thomas, an Australian.
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