November 26, 2008
Thankful in Space
The STS-126 crew have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. All the primary objectives have been met: the new expedition crewmember has been delivered (Sandy Magnus replaces Greg Chamitoff), the four spacewalks resulted in a working solar alpha rotary joint, and the new water recycling system is now up and running.
On Monday, the spacewalkers finished replacing the last of twelve trundle bearings in the giant joints that allow the solar arrays to spin like paddle wheels. Starting Tuesday, the array successfully tracked the sun for the first time in a year.
For those of us looking forward to future solar power satellites to collect sunshine and beam it to Earth, the spacewalks on STS-126 provided valuable confirmation that solar power systems can be repaired and maintained in space. The failure and repair of the joint will also lead to improved future designs.
The urine processing assembly is another victory for in-space engineers. ISS Commander Mike Fincke and STS-126 Mission Specialist Don Pettit were able to stabilize the centrifuge and get it working smoothly. It completed a second full test run on Tuesday and another one today without shutting down. Having the ability to reclaim all that water is crucial to increasing the crew size next spring.
Because there were no problems with the other "home improvements," not much has been said about them in the news. In looking over the specs for the new "bedrooms" that were added, I noticed that they are planned to be used as radiation safe havens. These two closet-sized "rooms" were installed in the Harmony node, the one between Columbus and Kibo. About the size of the lavatories on a commercial jet, these rooms have no window to the outside. But the padded rooms are quiet and dark and are "wired" for laptops. They have ventilation and temperature controls and "cupboard" space for personal belongings. Best of all, the room is in freefall, so the occupant can actually easily access every cubic inch of the room.
Though space station crews have the benefit of protection from Earth's magnetic field, if these new "cabins" work well, they could easily be adapted for stations at lunar distances. So this safe haven "home improvement" is also an important new capability to test prior to building stations on the Moon or sending humans to Mars.
All the supplies and new equipment were brought to space inside Leonardo. After emptying it out, the crew loaded it up with 3,500 pounds of "returnables." The crew then plucked Leonardo off its perch today and placed it back in the shuttle's payload bay for return to Earth.
The capability to bring back lots of equipment is something unique to the shuttle. The Russian progress ships bring up supplies and take the trash out. But they burn up in the atmosphere. The Soyuz are primarily for crew exchange and only have room for about a suitcase in addition to three crewmembers. The Orion will have some return cargo capability, but not nearly the carrying capacity of the shuttle. So it is important that the shuttle haul away as much of the reusable equipment as possible before retirement in 2010.
The shuttle crew will share Thanksgiving dinner with the expedition crew and then undock on Friday. Progress 31 launched today and will arrive at the station on Sunday. The Progress is bringing up holiday gifts and foods for the three crewmembers including Fincke, Magnus, and Yury Lonchakov.
The shuttle is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center on Sunday after a job well done. We should all be grateful for their hard work that will allow people to live and work in space more comfortably and affordably in future years.
Thankful in Houston,
Member of NSS Board of Advisors
Posted by m_dyson at November 26, 2008 08:48 PM