NASA lifts spacewalk ban for space station crew
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla, Mar 24 (Reuters) NASA lifted its ban on spacewalks from the International Space Station following ground tests of suspect safety equipment, a spokeswoman said today.
Engineers were concerned that metal handrails on the outside of the station's US components may fail due to a possible manufacturing flaw. Spacewalking astronauts use the handrails to attach the safety tethers that keep them from inadvertently floating off into space.
NASA found some corrosion in metal handrails on the ground and discovered the aluminum alloy had been overheated during manufacturing. Engineers could not determine if the rails aboard the station were similarly flawed, so NASA ordered tests to determine how the flaw would affect the rails' strength.
Managers have decided spacewalking crews can use the rails as long as they use a smaller attachment hook and attach to a metal stanchion rather than a bar rail, said Johnson Space Center spokeswoman Kylie Clem.
The next spacewalk outside the station is scheduled for July.
An unrelated ban on spacewalks using Russian equipment remained in effect.
The crew cannot find canisters of lithium hydroxide needed to purge carbon dioxide from the Russian space suits. A fresh supply is scheduled to be delivered to the outpost when the next Russian cargo ship is launched on April 24.
REUTERS SI KN2346