First spacewalk to replace pump module

The first spacewalk to replace the failed pump module on ISS is finished, and it did not go as well as hoped. The astronauts had problems removing one of four cooling system ammonia lines to the old pump. They eventually succeeded, actually using a hammer to lightly tap the quick-disconnect latch free. They then had to seal an ammonia leak coming from the problematic line. These issues caused them to run out of time, preventing them from removing the old pump and installing the new one. It is expected they will pick up where they left off on the next spacewalk, presently scheduled for Wednesday.

The failure of the past and a hint of the future

The coolant system failure on the International Space Station this weekend and the upcoming spacewalks being planned to fix it is a dramatic and fascinating story, capturing the interest of the general public while causing some news pundits to express fear and dread about science fiction scenerios of disasters in space.

The situation is hardly that death-defying. The station’s cooling systems have a lot of redundancy, all of which are being used to good effect. Moreover, the spacewalk repair to install a replacement pump module, though challenging, is exactly the kind of thing the astronauts have been trained to do. I expect them to do it with few problems. I would be far more surprised if they have serious difficulties and fail to get it done.

What this failure foreshadows, however, is the future on ISS. As the years pass and systems age, » Read more

ISS and Chinese satellite debris

Russian mission control has indicated that the debris left over from destruction of a Chinese satellite in 2007 poses a “danger” to the International Space Station. Key quote from a Russian official:

“If the calculations show that the debris is approaching the station at an unacceptably close range, the six astronauts will receive the order to take shelter in the two Russian Soyuz spacecraft which are docked with the ISS.”

Orbital’s COTS capsule taking shape

The Cygnus capsule is taking shape. Orbital Sciences signed a COTS contract with NASA in 2008 (as did SpaceX with its Falcon 9 rocket) to provide cargo ferrying services to ISS, and they are making real progress toward their first demonstration flight in the spring of 2011. That they have subcontracted most of the work to foreign companies, however, limits how much their work can help the American aerospace industry.

Redundancy is all

I just thought I’d note the interesting juxtaposition illustrated by my previous two posts: In one case there is a battle between Congress and the President over the future of the American manned space program, prompted by the impending shutdown of the shuttle program with no immediate replacement in sight. In the other case, the only remaining program with the capability to provide manned access to the International Space Station has a serious docking failure.

With manned spaceflight, redundancy is all important. This juxtaposition illustrates very clearly the precarious position we will be in once the shuttle is retired.

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