The International Space Station (ISS) crew made steady progress with maintenance work this week. Expedition 9 Commander Gennady Padalka and NASA Station Science Officer Mike Fincke restored the primary oxygen generator to partial operation and replaced a cabin air monitoring system.
Padalka and Fincke also began packing for the trip home. The Russian Federal Space Agency announced today launch of the next Station crew, Expedition 10 Commander Leroy Chiao and Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov, is scheduled for 11:06 p.m. EDT Oct. 13. NASA and Russian Station managers also met today to review preparations for that mission in a Flight Readiness Review and found everything in order.
Heading to the Station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft with Chiao and Sharipov will be Russian Space Forces Test Cosmonaut Yuri Shargin. The trio will dock with the Station at 12:24 a.m. EDT Oct. 16. Padalka, Fincke and Shargin will return to Earth in another Soyuz that’s already docked to the Station. They’re scheduled to land in Kazakhstan at 8:32 p.m. EDT Oct. 23. Chiao and Sharipov will remain aboard the Station for six months.
Padalka and Fincke continued troubleshooting the Elektron oxygen generator this week. It has operated intermittently during the past few weeks. The system creates breathing oxygen from water, venting hydrogen overboard from the Station in the process. With plans provided by Russian ground controllers, the crew hooked the system’s hydrogen venting line up to a different overboard valve in the Station’s Zvezda module. The valve is normally used as part of an atmospheric contaminant control system.
Hooked up to the new vent valve, the Elektron has operated well during several daylong test runs. Meanwhile, the crew continued periodic cleaning of filters in the vent valve normally used by the Elektron, attempting to remove what are believed to be potassium hydroxide particles clogging the system.
In other work this week, U.S. flight controllers completed a checkout of a Thermal Radiator Rotary Joint. It’s a joint on the Station’s exterior that allows radiators to be swiveled to dissipate heat as efficiently as possible. The joints are not needed until more solar arrays are added to the Station after Space Shuttles resume flying.
Fincke also replaced a U.S. air monitoring system in the Destiny Laboratory this week, restoring that system to full operation. Called the Major Constituents Analyzer, the equipment had previously only been periodically operating. With the installation of a new Mass Spectrometer Unit, delivered to the Station aboard the last Progress cargo spacecraft, the system is continuously operating.
On Monday, beginning at 10:40 a.m. EDT, Padalka and Fincke will field questions from media representatives at NASA Headquarters, Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers during an in flight news conference.
For his “Saturday Science” last weekend, Fincke conducted a session with the In Space Soldering Investigation (ISSI). He performed several tests connecting metal alloy wires of various configurations together with solder. These test pieces are designed to evaluate the effectiveness of different geometries typical of the kinds of operations that might be required in the future.
Investigators on Earth monitored the experiment from the Telescience Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala. By viewing video, they are able to observe the soldering operation, as the crew works on samples. The samples will be returned to Earth for testing. Tests will include a microscopic evaluation of the structures of the solder joints, and how they compare with those done in the laboratory on Earth.
Experiments like this one provide a systematic method for studying how to improve tools and repair procedures in space. This information can be used to design future tools and develop the best procedures for repairing equipment in the unique environment inside an orbiting spacecraft.