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SCIENCE

Third spacewalk needed to repair ISS coolant leak

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-08

Another spacewalk is needed to repair a coolant leak in the International Space Station, after two EVAs on Saturday failed to fix the problem.

AFP - Astronauts need to conduct an extra, third spacewalk outside the International Space Station after their efforts Saturday to repair a failed cooling system on the orbiter fell short, NASA said.
  
"I really think we're going to end up with three EVAs," or extra vehicular activities, ISS manager Michael Suffredini said after US astronauts completed a first spacewalk in which they ran into trouble trying to unhook and remove the busted module that has caused the cooling problem.
  
A second spacewalk has already been scheduled for no earlier than Wednesday, but NASA said it was clear that a third walk was now needed.
  
"It would take a lot of good luck and somebody coming up with a really short tweak to the EVA for us to get to the point where we can start that (new) ammonia pump" after the second spacewalk, Suffredini told a briefing broadcast on NASA's website.
  
"We're going to end up being in this condition, this risk posture, a few more days than originally planned," he said.
  
Conditions on the ISS remained stable and the station's six-person crew -- three Americans and three Russians -- was not in danger, US space agency officials said.
  
But the development is a setback for NASA. Astronauts Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson had just completed the longest spacewalk outside the ISS and, at eight hours and three minutes, the sixth longest ever.
  
Yet they could not wrest the faulty pump module from the outside of the station's first starboard truss.
  
"We did our best to get it disconnected, but it didn't apparently want to," spacewalk flight director Courtenay McMillan said.
  
At one point, Wheelock resorted to hammering on one of the stuck lines' buttons, which caused the mechanism to open successfully.
  
Then, an ammonia leak forced an extension of the spacewalk, as the duo needed to "bake-out" the ammonia that escaped from the lines and contaminated their suits.
  
NASA encountered trouble with the four valves and their quick disconnect, or QD, mechanisms that the astronauts needed to use in order to get the module completely unhooked and removed.
  
NASA described the QDs as "sensitive systems" designed to feed ammonia through the valves at high pressure.
  
Astronauts noticed ammonia had built up around one of the valves, and it started leaking ammonia when opened.
  
McMillan said it was safer to leave the hose connected than to risk disconnecting it in its current configuration and then being unable to stop the leak.
  
"If we let it leak for too long, we might actually lose more ammonia than we can afford to in terms of getting the system restarted," she said.
  
Experts will meet at Mission Control in Houston, Texas on Sunday to map out the next steps, NASA said.
  
The agency will need "probably a couple more EVAs to get the job done," McMillan said.
  
She added that NASA was "looking at every possible option" to ensure a rapid resolution to what has become a nagging condition for the orbiting station.
  
Suffredini insisted that the space agency will overcome the problem.
  
"The challenge is to get through this problem before the next problem hits the other cooling system," he said.
  
The two astronauts were hoping to move the 780-pound (355-kilogram) spare unit around 30 feet (10 meters) from the opposite side of a truss for insertion into the gap left by the defective pump.
  
"This is a big, unwieldy object, so maneuvering it around and handing it off to crew members... could take some time and a lot of focus," McMillan told reporters earlier in the week.
  
The crew had faced an unusually short lead time for such a tricky spacewalk -- less than a week, compared with the two weeks NASA usually takes to prepare for a spacewalk to fix a "Big 14 failure," when a major unit stops working.
  
If the second of the two ISS cooling units fails -- a highly unlikely scenario, according to NASA -- the astronauts would no longer be able to cool most of the space station components.
  
But the crew would not be in danger because they could move to the Russian segment of the ISS, which has its own cooling system.
  
The ISS, which orbits 350 kilometers (220 miles) above Earth, is a sophisticated platform for scientific experiments.
  
It is a 100-billion-dollar cooperation between 15 countries, and has been manned uninterrupted since October 1990.
 

Date created : 2010-08-08

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