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February 09, 2008

Spacewalk Delayed-Crew Sick

The shuttle successfully docked to the station today (Saturday), and grappled the orbiter boom. While the boom was being lifted out, Mission Control called up and asked Commander Frick to call them on a private channel. Earlier, during a press briefing with one of the flight directors, Houston Chronicle reporter Mark Carreau had asked if the crew had a medical issue. The flight director said he didn't know of one.

A few minutes after Frick called Mission Control back, the word was sent up that the first spacewalk, scheduled to begin Sunday at 8:30 AM, was postponed until Monday. And Stan Love would replace Hans Schlegel.

At the Mission Management briefing that followed shortly after this, Chairman John Shannon said that the commander had called Mission Control and asked for a private medical conference during the rendezvous ("which kind of surprised us," he said--that being a very busy time for the commander). Despite reporters efforts, Shannon refused to confirm that Schlegel is the one who is sick or whether this is a case of extended space sickness or something more serious.

This is purely speculation on my part--but I doubt that it is simply space adaptation syndrome (SAS). Schlegel has flown before, and most astronauts who have flown before adapt quickly (the brain "remembers" what to do, and once fluid levels are reduced through sweating and urination--and sometimes vomiting, they are fine). Even newbies are usually adapted after the first 24-48 hours. They launched on Thursday, so if he had symptoms, they should be going away by now.

Having just gotten over the flu that is making the rounds here in Houston, I certainly hope he wasn't somehow exposed to that. If so, he's in for several days of high fever and up to a week of nausea and lack of energy. At least that is how it hit me (and the flu shot didn't protect the person I caught it from). One of the reporters asked if the sickness were of the contagious variety, but Shannon refused to provide any information.

What we do know is that EVA 1 will be moved to Monday. They will retain the day off between EVAs, so the second one will be postponed to Wednesday, and the third one to Friday. It has not been determined yet if Schlegel will do EVA 2 as planned. Love has been trained as his backup and can do both of Schlegel's EVAs if necessary.

It has also not been determined if the mission will be extended a day or not. Mission Control has asked them to power down a bit so that the option to extend beyond the usual day is available.

They may need this extra time to take a closer look at a tear found in the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pod thermal blanket. The tear appears smaller than the one on the OMS pod on STS-117 that was repaired with staples last year. Only the white blanket is sticking up this time, and the location is farther back and not in a critical heating area. No damage has been found on the wings or belly thus far.

Another issue they will be working has to do with one of the computers that isn't behaving. They have plenty of computers, and only needed 2 to do the rendezvous--so no one is very worried about this. They no longer carry a spare, so there won't be any replacement--like computer folks everywhere, they are going to recycle it and see what that does.

I'm sure we all wish for Hans to recover quickly from whatever is ailing him, and hope that no one else falls ill. It is good to know that Love is trained to do those tasks--and Shannon said that if necessary, the station crew could also be called upon to help with spacewalks. One way or another, Columbus will become part of the station this week--starting Monday. Leland and Eyharts (with some help from Tani) positioned the orbiter boom as planned in preparation of the move--and the view of the shiny silver Columbus backdropped by the blue Pacific sure was pretty. I think we can look forward to more beautiful views as this mission progresses this week.

To the stars!

Marianne Dyson

NSS member
Assignments Editor, Ad Astra magazine

Posted by m_dyson at February 9, 2008 04:36 PM



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