March 24, 2006

NASA lifts spacewalk ban for space station crew

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA lifted its ban on
spacewalks from the International Space Station following
ground tests of suspect safety equipment, a spokeswoman said on

Engineers were concerned that metal handrails on the
outside of the station's U.S. 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

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.