Last week the International Space Station (ISS) experienced a bit of a technical issue: the A/C went out. Ground-based experts tried to restart the cooling system, but were unsuccessful. Work aboard the station ground to a halt as non-essential equipment had to be shut down in order to maintain a survivable atmosphere for the crew. Still, something has to be done.
Thankfully, the ISS is actually carrying a spare refrigerator-sized cooling unit. Two members of the crew will just have to step outside and slap that puppy into place and the station will be back in tip-top shape. There's just a small chance of drowning in their space suits.
It's happened before. Back in July, Italian astronaut nearly died when "excess" water began leaking nto his helmet. For our money, when you're floating in the void of space and depending on a space suit to keep you alive, any amount of water seeping into your helmet is probably excess. in order to circumvent another near-drowning, NASA has rigged up what amounts to a space snorkel.
Technically these snorkels are just bits of spare water line vent tubing that have been rigged up by the ISS crew and then velcroed into the space suit helmets. Since the root cause of the July's leak is still unknown, what might otherwise be seen as a silly bit of tinkering could actually save either Rick Mastracchio or Mike Hopkins' life as the two Americans begin the repairs. Incidentally, four Russian cosmonauts have gone on space walks since July without incident, but the Americans aren't feeling quite so cavalier when it comes to space drowning. The repairs are slated to take place over three separate space walks on December 21st, 23rd and 25th.