Dubai: UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi is preparing for the first Arab spacewalk in the vacuum of space outside the International Space Station (ISS), with a spacesuit weighing 145kg on Earth.
His historic spacewalk along with NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen is scheduled to be held from 5.15pm on Friday, April 28. Al Neyadi’s spacewalk will make the UAE the 10th country in the world to undertake a spacewalk, also known as an Extravehicular Activity (EVA) in space.
On Wednesday, Al Neyadi posted a video on Twitter to explain how he is preparing for the daring task in the vacuum of space that is expected to last for six-and-a-half hours.
“Many of you must be wondering how we prepare for spacewalks. Here is a look into our preparations from the airlock onboard the ISS, as we get ready for our mission on 28/4/2023,” he posted.
Al Neyadi can be seen standing in between two massive spacesuits or the Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMU), known as the world’s smallest spacecraft and the ultimate in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Preparations in airlock
In his introductory remarks, he mentions that he was speaking from the Airlock inside the space station. The Quest Airlock, a pressurised module on the space station, is the primary path for spacewalk entry and departure for astronauts wearing US spacesuits.
Pointing out that the airlock is from where the astronauts prepare for spacewalks, he shows that the room is divided into two sections.
The Airlock consists of two compartments attached end-to-end by a connecting bulkhead and hatch. The first compartment is the ‘Equipment Lock’ which provides the systems for suit maintenance and refurbishment. The second one is the ‘Crew Lock,’ which provides the actual exit for performing spacewalks.
Al Neyadi then gives a description about the spacesuits worn by astronauts during spacewalks to perform tasks such as maintenance of the station or installing new parts for the ISS.
“These suits serve as miniature spacecraft providing protection because spacewalk missions can last for approximately seven hours,” Al Neyadi says.
“The suit provides oxygen and protection from high temperatures in outer space. If exposed to the sun, temperatures can reach up to 120 degree Celsius, while in the dark, temperatures can drop to approximately -150 degree Celsius. The suit provides protection from both,” he explains.
“It also contains devices to purify the air from carbon dioxide and provides necessary communication equipment for spacewalks.”
Al Neyadi also gives a quick explanation about some parts of the EMU.
Pointing to the Portable Life Support System, which provides breathable air for the astronauts and battery power for the suit’s electrical functions, he says the bag-like back section contains oxygen, refrigeration equipment, communication equipment and air purifiers.
“As astronauts are of different statures, the suit comes in three sizes: medium, large and extra-large. One can further alter the size of the arms and legs to fit them,” he explains.
“The upper part of the suit contains the helmet which is protected by a hard layer and looks like sunglasses. The suit also has covers on the right and left sides and an additional sunshade for protection from strong sunlight,” Al Neyadi adds.
He signs off talking about his spacewalk scheduled for Friday. “Please join us as we make history with the first spacewalk by Arabs,” he says while concluding the video.
The EMU in fact consists of around a dozen components with specific tasks to aid the hours-long presence of the astronauts in the harsh environment of outer space.
Its main components consist of a Hard Upper Torso (HUT) assembly, a Primary Life Support System (PLSS) which incorporates the life support and electrical systems, arm assembly sections, gloves, an Apollo-style “bubble” helmet with camera and lights, the Extravehicular Visor Assembly (EVVA), and a soft Lower Torso Assembly (LTA), incorporating the Body Seal Closure (BSC), waist bearing, brief, legs, boots and an adult-sized diaper called Maximum Absorption Garment (MAG).
Not only does the complex garment protect astronauts from the extreme conditions of space, it is in itself a mobile life support system with an oxygen supply, electrical power, water-cooling equipment, ventilating fan and an in-suit drink bag.
SAFER life jacket
A device called Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER) is also attached to EMU. It is essentially a “life jacket” for spacewalks. SAFER is a self-contained maneuvering unit that is worn like a backpack. The system relies on small nitrogen-jet thrusters to let an astronaut move around in space. Astronauts must activate the SAFER in emergency situations as the space station cannot maneuver to rescue a free-floating EVA crew member unlike space shuttles.
The EMU design is modular, which means that it has separate pieces that can be put together to fit each astronaut. The current suit design is capable of fitting a 5th percentile female (5’ tall, 110 lb) up to a 95th percentile male (6’2” tall, 223 lb).
The ISS EMU, with the life support backpack and SAFER, weighs approximately 319 lb (145 kg) on Earth and is pressurised to 4.3 psia (29.6 kPa).
Meanwhile, NASA said Bowen and Al Neyadi spent Tuesday configuring their EMUs to get ready for the spacewalk.
“The duo also organised their spacewalking tools and inspected the tethers that will keep the spacewalkers safely attached to the station. The pair were joined in the afternoon by NASA Flight Engineers Woody Hoburg and Frank Rubio reviewing spacewalk procedures with mission controllers on the ground. The two spacewalkers will spend about six-and-a-half hours in the vacuum of space continuing the process of upgrading the station’s power generation system,” the US space agency added.
Their spacewalk is titled US Spacewalk 86. It will be the first ever experience for rookie astronaut Al Neyadi while Bowen will be performing his eighth spacewalk.
Bowen will be referred to as EV-1 in a red-striped EMU and Al Neyadi will be the EV-2 in an unmarked, all white EMU.
The astronaut duo will retrieve an S-band antenna equipment, which enables communication with Earth, and bring it inside the space station for refurbishment.
They will work on a series of preparatory tasks related to the solar array installation EVAs planned for later in the mission. This prepares cables for the future installation of upgraded solar arrays on the starboard side of the station’s truss. The duo will also work on foot restraints spread out on different parts of the station’s exterior.