Cancellation of NASA Spacewalk Is Literally a Pain in the Neck

Cancellation of NASA Spacewalk Is Literally a Pain in the Neck
Astronaut Mark Vande Hei conducting a spacesuit fit check on August 17, 2021. (Image: NASA Johnson)

NASA had to postpone a scheduled spacewalk to install new solar arrays outside the International Space Station after one of its astronauts complained of a pinched nerve in his neck.

“Thanks for everyone’s concern,” Mark Vande Hei, flight engineer for Expedition 65, tweeted yesterday. “I have a pinched nerve in my neck that caused us to reschedule today’s spacewalk. The support from family, friends, and NASA leadership has been fantastic. I’m looking forward to installing this IROSA Mod kit. Today just wasn’t the right day.”

Once installed, iROSA, or International Space Station Roll-Out Solar Array, will boost the ISS’s power grid and provide more electrical power for the “numerous research and science investigations conducted every day, as well as the continued operations of the orbiting platform,” according to NASA.

Vande Hei, along with JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, were scheduled to do the 6.5-hour spacewalk on August 24. NASA called it off with less than 24 hours notice, saying the postponement was due to a “minor medical issue” that “was not a medical emergency,” per an agency press release.

“A pinched nerve is a compressed nerve,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. “Surrounding tissues that press on nerve roots can cause pain, numbness and tingling in different areas of your body.” Pinched nerves, in this case the cervical nerves, can be painful, but they tend to go away with rest and can be treated with medications and physiotherapy.

A Russian Soyuz MS-18 crew capsule delivered Vande Hei to the orbital outpost on April 9, 2021, and he’s expected to remain on the ISS for an entire year. The NASA astronaut was originally scheduled for a six-month mission, but Russian plans to film a movie on board the station meant he lost his ride home. The filming of this movie, called Vyzov (Challenge in English), is already proving to be a different kind of pain in the neck.

NASA says the iROSA installation is not time sensitive and that it’s now evaluating the next best opportunity for the spacewalk. It won’t happen any time soon on account of upcoming events, namely the arrival of the SpaceX CRS-23 cargo mission, which is scheduled to launch on August 28, and two unrelated Russian spacewalks scheduled for September 3 and 9. Cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov will be setting up the recently arrived Nauka module, which caused all that trouble a few weeks ago.

So at the earliest, NASA will do its spacewalk in mid-September. Vande Hei will hopefully be feeling better by then.