A Russian cosmonaut just dealt with a rare spacesuit problem. As CNN’s Jackie Wattles observed, mission control ordered Oleg Artemyev back to the International Space Station’s airlock after encountering a suit issue. While the exact nature of the trouble wasn’t clear as of this writing, NASA commentators noted a “slight fluctuation” in the suit’s battery power. Artemyev returned safely, plugged into the station’s power supply and resumed operations.
We’ve asked NASA for comment. In a statement to Space.com, spokesperson Bob Navias said Artemyev “never was in any danger” when the anomaly occurred around 12PM Eastern. Artemyev and fellow Russian Denis Matveev were in the midst of outfitting the ESA’s robotic arm with cameras and other equipment changes.
While this appears to have been a mild incident, it may have produced unpleasant flashbacks. Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano’s suit leaked during two spacewalks (the first initially went undetected) in July 2013. During the second sortie, Parmitano’s helmet filled with water and made it difficult to breathe — his calm return to base may have helped save his life, according to a NASA report. The incident led the agency to pause all non-emergency spacewalks until it isolated the cause (a clogged filter) and took steps to prevent future crises.
Artemyev’s issue might not lead to a similar review. However, it underscores the continuing fragility of space exploration. Even a seemingly minor issue can become serious in space, and mission teams don’t want to take any chances.