Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

May 12, 2013

Spacewalking repair halts station leak - for now

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Astronauts making a rare, hastily planned spacewalk replaced a pump outside the International Space Station on Saturday in hopes of plugging a serious ammonia leak.

The prospects of success grew as the minutes, then hours passed and no frozen flecks of ammonia appeared. Mission Control said it appeared as though the leak may have been plugged, although additional monitoring over the coming weeks will be needed before declaring a victory.

“I will tell you that we’re happy. We’re very happy,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA’s deputy space station program manager. “We didn’t see any obvious signs of a leak, but it’s going to take some time ... for us to look at the system, evaluate the system and make sure we did, indeed, stop the leak.”

Montalbano expects it will take “a good four weeks, five weeks, maybe even a few weeks longer.”

“Obviously, the longer you go, the more confidence you get,” he told reporters.

Christopher Cassidy and Thomas Marshburn installed the new pump after removing the old one suspected of spewing flakes of frozen ammonia coolant two days earlier. They uncovered “no smoking guns” responsible for the leak and consequently kept a sharp lookout for any icy flecks that might appear from the massive frame that holds the solar panels on the left side.

“Let us know if you see anything,” Mission Control urged as the fresh pump was cranked up. Thirty minutes later, all was still well. “No snow,” the astronauts radioed.

“We have our eyes on it and haven’t seen a thing,” Marshburn said.

NASA said the leak, while significant, never jeopardized crew safety. But managers wanted to deal with the trouble now, while it’s fresh and before Marshburn returns to Earth in just a few days.

The space agency never before staged such a fast, impromptu spacewalk for a station crew. Even during the shuttle program, unplanned spacewalks were uncommon.

The ammonia pump was the chief suspect going into Saturday’s spacewalk. So it was disheartening for NASA, at first, as Cassidy and Marshburn reported nothing amiss on or around the old pump.

“All the pipes look shiny clean, no crud,” Cassidy said as he used a long, dentist-like mirror to peer into tight, deep openings.

“I can’t give you any good data other than nominal, unfortunately. No smoking guns.”

Engineers determined there was nothing to lose by installing a new pump, despite the lack of visible damage to the old one. The entire team — weary and stressed by the frantic pace of the past two days — gained more and more confidence as the 5 1/2-hour spacewalk drew to a close with no flecks of ammonia popping up.

“Gloved fingers crossed,” space station commander Chris Hadfield said in a tweet from inside. “No leaks!” he wrote a half-hour later.

Flight controllers in Houston worked furiously to get ready for Saturday’s operation, completing all the required preparation in under 48 hours. The astronauts trained for just such an emergency scenario before they rocketed into orbit.

This area on the space station is prone to leaks.

The ammonia coursing through the plumbing is used to cool the space station’s electronic equipment. There are eight of these power channels, and all seven others are operating normally.

Life for the six space station residents has been pretty much unaffected since Thursday’s ammonia shower. The loss of an additional power channel, however, could threaten science experiments and backup equipment.

“We may not have found exactly the smoking gun,” Cassidy said, “but to pull off what this team did yesterday and today, working practically 48 straight hours, it was a remarkable effort on everybody’s behalf.”

NASA officials remain mystified as to why the leak erupted. Ammonia already had been seeping ever so slightly from the location, but the flow increased dramatically Thursday.

Montalbano did not know, as of Saturday evening, how much ammonia was lost. Another spacewalk will be needed to replenish the supply.

With the repair work behind them, the astronauts and ground controllers turned their attention to the impending departure of three of the six crewmen.

Marshburn has been on the space station since December and is set to return to Earth late Monday, along with Hadfield, a Canadian, and Russian Roman Romanenko. Cassidy is a new arrival, on board for just 1 1/2 months.

By coincidence, the two Americans performed a spacewalk at this troublesome spot before, during a shuttle visit in 2009.

“This type of event is what the years of training were for,” Hadfield said in a tweet Friday. “A happy, busy crew, working hard, loving life in space.”

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Boston Marathon Bombi_Rich copy.jpg Questions linger year after Boston Marathon bombs

    A surveillance video shows a man prosecutors say is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just yards from where an 8-year-old boy was killed when it exploded.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP120401029 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 15, the 105th day of 2014. There are 260 days left in the year.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Station_Rich copy.jpg NASA OKs space station visit despite dead computer

    NASA is pressing ahead with Monday’s planned launch of a supply ship despite a critical computer outage at the International Space Station, promising the situation is safe.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fatal Shooting Kansas_Rich copy.jpg 3 dead after suburban Kansas City shooting

    A man opened fire outside a Jewish community center on Sunday, killing two people before driving over to a retirement community a few blocks away and killing someone else, authorities said.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Seven Dead Babies Arr_Rich(1) copy.jpg Utah woman arrested after 7 dead babies found

    A Utah woman accused of killing several babies she gave birth to over 10 years was arrested Sunday after police discovered seven tiny bodies stuffed in separate cardboard boxes in the garage of her former home.
    Megan Huntsman, 39, who lived in the Pleasant Grove home until three years ago, had the infants between 1996 and 2006, investigators said.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP110714053482 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 14, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 14, the 104th day of 2014. There are 261 days left in the year. The Jewish holiday Passover begins at sunset.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Range Showdow_Rich copy.jpg Feds release cows gathered in Nevada roundup

    Federal land managers confirmed Saturday that they released all 400 or so head of cattle rounded up on public land in southern Nevada from a rancher who has refused to recognize their authority.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Ukraine_Rich copy.jpg Uniformed men occupy Donetsk police HQ

    Men in the uniforms of Ukraine’s now-defunct riot police on Saturday occupied police headquarters in Donetsk, the eastern city that is one of the flashpoints of a wave of pro-Russia protests, hours after armed men seized local police headquarters and a local branch of the Security Service in a nearby city.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Australia Malaysia Pl_Rich copy.jpg Long hunt for missing jet looms as pings go silent

    After a week of optimism over four underwater signals believed to be coming from the missing Malaysian plane, the sea has gone quiet and Australia’s leader is warning that the massive search will likely be long.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP82016106626 copy.jpg Today in History for Sunday, April 13, 2014

    Today is Palm Sunday, April 13, the 103rd day of 2014. There are 262 days left in the year.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

What you think about school and workplace rules about Facebook friends?

There have to be rules.
No need for rules, just use common sense.
If people want to be friends, what is the big deal?
Nobody uses Facebook anymore.
     View Results