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Faulty suit battery forces premature end to Russian spacewalk

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A Russian spacewalk outside the International Space Station ended ahead of schedule on Wednesday, US and Russian officials said, after an astronaut discovered an electrical problem in his suit.

Oleg Artemyev spent nearly two hours on a six-hour spacewalk when voltage levels in his suit’s battery began to drop unexpectedly, prompting flight controllers in Moscow to repeatedly order the cosmonaut to immediately return to the station’s airlock.

In a live audio broadcast, the flight controller told Artemyev from the mission control center in Moscow, “Oleg, leave everything and come back… Leave everything and start returning immediately… Go back and connect (the suit to the source) power to the station.”

Artemyev returned to the airlock and connected his suit to a power source.

The observer warned Artemyev that he would risk cutting off power to the oxygen pump in his suit, as well as calling the control center, if he did not immediately return to the airlock for power. But Rob Navias, a NASA spokesman, said Artemyev was “never in any danger”.

The Russian control team chose to end the mission after the other cosmonaut Denis Matveev collected his tools and returned the robotic arm they were about to upgrade to normal. With Matveev’s return, the spacewalk will have taken four hours.

Wednesday’s spacewalk mission was the 252nd in the station’s history, and was intended to install cameras and make modifications to a European robotic arm mounted on Russia’s Noka Research Unit that will be used to remotely transport equipment outside the station.

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