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Space Station's Air Leak Mystery Deepens
MSNBC ^ | 1-9-2004 | Marcia Dunn

Posted on 01/09/2004 11:54:34 AM PST by blam

Space station's air leak mystery deepens

Equipment looks fine; no immediate danger, NASA says


NASA

NASA astronaut Michael Foale and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri celebrated New Year's Day on the space station, then were notified Monday that the air pressure was slowly dropping.

By Marcia Dunn
Aerospace Writer
The Associated Press

Updated: 1:05 p.m. ET Jan. 09, 2004CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - An air purifier that was the prime suspect for a cabin leak at the international space station turned out to be airtight Friday as the crew widened the search for the mystery leak.

The cabin pressure continued to slowly fall as flight controllers in both the United States and Russian debated what to do next. One plan, not yet finalized, would have the two men on board, Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri and NASA astronaut Michael Foale, closing the hatches on individual compartments one at a time in an attempt to isolate any potential leaks.

Mission Control stressed that even though the pressure was now down to 14.0 pounds per square inch, it was still safe for the crew and station operations. The threshold, however, for equipment failure — not all equipment, just some — is 13.9 pounds per square inch.

The normal air pressure aboard the space station is 14.7 pounds per square inch, a level not present up there since before Christmas.

Checking equipment

Flight controllers zeroed in on the Russian carbon-dioxide removal unit earlier this week as the source of the pressure decay, but Kaleri found nothing wrong with it Friday. The system was “more or less reported to be airtight,” Mission Control reported.

Kaleri checked other environmental systems on the Russian side of the space station and nothing was found to be leaking.

The next step, probably this weekend, will have Kaleri and Foale sealing off the docked Russian cargo ship and then the Russian air lock and then the American air lock, to gauge any pressure changes.

Space station managers are “meticulously” going through the list of equipment that is susceptible to falling pressure, Mission Control said. It’s possible that the main item in question — a monitor for air contaminants — could be simply turned off in order to preserve it once the pressure reached 13.9 pounds per square inch.

Engineers do not believe a repressurization would be necessary before Sunday or Monday.

No immediate danger

In emphasizing the lack of immediate danger, Mission Control noted that the current level of 14 pounds per square inch is equivalent to the atmospheric pressure in Oklahoma City. There are plenty of places on Earth where people live with much lower air pressure, Mission Control said, citing Las Vegas at 13.6 pounds per square inch, Denver at just over 12 pounds per square inch, and Mexico City at less than 12 pounds per square inch.

Foale, the commander, and Kaleri are supposed to remain on board until the end of April. They arrived in October as the eighth set of full-time residents.

NASA has reduced the number of space station residents from three to two for the foreseeable future because of the grounding of the shuttle fleet in the wake of the Columbia disaster. Russian spacecraft are simply too small to deliver all the necessary supplies and spare parts.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: air; deepens; leak; mystery; spacestation; spave; stations
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To: XBob
Seems like FIRST thing to do would be to isolate each compartment - THAT immediately tells which eqpt''s it CAN'T be.

Sure, an "outside" bubble check isn't practical - can't "paintbrush" soapy water solution in a vacuum, best I can tell, even if it could be done to coat the whole exterior of the thing coating every joint.

But an outside IR camera, aimed back at the single compartment in darkness, should reveal a "trail" of gasses from one or more joints or seals or connections.

And are you sure you want to randomly "paint (er, contaminate with water) joints designed to be pure and pristine in a space environment?
41 posted on 01/09/2004 8:56:40 PM PST by Robert A. Cook, PE (I can only support FR by donating monthly, but ABBCNNBCBS continue to lie every day!)
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To: blam
Perhaps this is a manifestation of Ross Perot's giant sucking sound.

I hope they do have some plan such as putting glue in the cracks.
42 posted on 01/09/2004 9:00:21 PM PST by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch is der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
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To: BraveMan
... could be construed as a serious safety issue . . .

Memories of the then-wife.

I believe the first Cosmonaut to EVA had a heck of time getting back in due to bloating. The garment, anyways.

43 posted on 01/09/2004 9:14:21 PM PST by Calvin Locke
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To: XBob
This airleak problem is a big problem.

I find it difficult to believe that the loud noise heard in early December 03 is unrelated to the leak.
44 posted on 01/10/2004 9:31:52 AM PST by bonesmccoy (defend America...get vaccinated.)
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To: William Tell; snopercod
I don't understand ISS systems as well as orbiter systems. But, there is a significant leak.

We should be very concerned about the leak, especially since the POTUS is talking about redirecting NASA now.

If the POTUS makes his announcement and the "leak" at ISS becomes explosive decompression, the POTUS is going to look really dumb.

45 posted on 01/10/2004 9:34:15 AM PST by bonesmccoy (defend America...get vaccinated.)
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To: leadpenny
I don't understand why the JSC people aren't more alarmed about this situation. Loss of 10% of the air in the station should be a cause for alarm.
46 posted on 01/10/2004 9:42:44 AM PST by bonesmccoy (defend America...get vaccinated.)
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To: bonesmccoy
I think you have hit on something in your previous post above: Political Timing!
47 posted on 01/10/2004 10:03:57 AM PST by leadpenny
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To: trebb
I think you're right! I myself just expanded during the recent Christmas holiday!

Hb
48 posted on 01/10/2004 10:08:14 AM PST by Hoverbug
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To: Robert A. Cook, PE
41 - "Seems like FIRST thing to do would be to isolate each compartment - THAT immediately tells which eqpt''s it CAN'T be"

Wow - you are 'smart'. LOL - I just can't believe how STOOOOOPID these folks are -

Sort of like, it would have been 'smart' to assure that the o-rings don't leak. It would have been 'smart' to assure that large chunks of foam don't fall off and hit the orbiter.

It is really fricken unbelievable - a 6 year old knows better.
49 posted on 01/10/2004 1:54:48 PM PST by XBob
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To: Robert A. Cook, PE
41 - I was responding to the 'closing off compartments' - I guess I should have specified. The 'soapy water' leak detection is a dumb idea. Simply save air and at the same time narrow down the search by compartment - step one in emergency procedures.
50 posted on 01/10/2004 2:01:23 PM PST by XBob
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To: XBob
It would seem possible to get some "traceable" gas up there in the next supply run (and I'm not sure what it would be!0 that an external sensor could distinguish from normal "vent gasses" outside the lab.

Then, run a scan of the trace gas from outside. For example, in the lab, several gasses are more visible in IR than O2 or N2, so this lets you "see" them with a external leak detector.

Good exmple is a Freon sniffer check done by plumber and HVAC contractors. Also auto mechanics.
51 posted on 01/10/2004 4:23:42 PM PST by Robert A. Cook, PE (I can only support FR by donating monthly, but ABBCNNBCBS continue to lie every day!)
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To: Robert A. Cook, PE
good idea. We used 'helium' at KSC, to test for leaks.

Had to be careful though, because like hydrogen, nothing can really contain helium. It leaks right between the other atoms/molecules of any container made out of ANY material, after a while. (This is why hydrogen will never really make it as a fuel for cars)
52 posted on 01/10/2004 4:37:38 PM PST by XBob
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To: XBob; bonesmccoy
NASA: Space Station Leak Traced to U.S. Lab
Mon 12 January, 2004 17:15

By Sonia Oxley

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A tiny hole in the U.S. part of the International Space Station is the likely source of a leak that caused tension between Russia and the United States over a steady drop in air pressure, a NASA official said on Monday.

Both Russia and the United States agreed the leak, discovered late last month, posed no danger to the two-man crew. But while Russia said the air pressure level had stabilized, the United States said it was continuing to drop.

"The leak is most likely in a flex hose in the U.S. module in the lab," Jim Newman, director of NASA's Human Space Flight Program in Russia told Reuters.

"The technical guys are saying they are about 80 percent sure and they are going to look at it over the next few days and make sure that's what it really is," he added after earlier saying there was a 95 percent certainty.

He said the width of the hole was about the size of a pinhead and was in a hose connected to the biggest window in the laboratory.

Russian space authorities on Monday agreed this was the likely cause of the loss of the air pressure.

NASA astronaut Michael Foale and Russian Alexander Kaleri, aboard the station since October, have removed the defective hose used to help keep air and condensation out of the windows around the laboratory.

Newman said there were no spare hoses on the station, but there was no hurry to replace it as its absence posed no danger.

"Right now there is no rush. There is no danger to the crew and there hasn't been right through this whole thing," Newman said. "There are no other flex hoses on board...but it will be simple enough to ship one up at the next opportunity."

FRESH CREW

The next cargo ship to the station is due to blast off at the end of this month from Russia's Baikonur base in Kazakhstan.

"Since I don't know that this is a critical component, I don't know they will ship one up on this flight -- perhaps the next one," he said, referring to a plan to send up a fresh crew in April to replace the current one.

Newman said despite finding the probable source of the leak it was not yet known whether the slow fall in air pressure had been halted, but it would become clear in the next few days.

He said a plan to seal off the four main modules on Wednesday and isolate the crewmen in one section for five days would probably continue despite the discovery of the hole.

"There is a good chance they will continue with the previously scheduled tests that they were going to do including...the sealing-off of the modules," Newman said.

Itar-Tass news agency reported on Monday that the crew's program of experiments could be slightly shortened as a result of the sealing-off.

Russian space officials said they believed the air pressure had stabilized at a normal level.

"This small loss of pressure is not terrible for the station," Vyacheslav Mikhailichenko, spokesman for Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos, said. "Now the pressure is normal."

He said the Russian sections of the station used completely different technology to the U.S. areas, but were no less likely to develop a fault.

"We have our own system, our own technology," he said. "But in principle, anything can break."

53 posted on 01/12/2004 12:00:46 PM PST by snopercod (I talk to myself because I like dealing with a better class of people.)
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To: snopercod; bonesmccoy
53 - Thanks for the post/ping.

LOL - "NASA astronaut Michael Foale and Russian Alexander Kaleri, aboard the station since October, have removed the defective hose used to help keep air and condensation out of the windows around the laboratory.

Newman said there were no spare hoses on the station, but there was no hurry to replace it as its absence posed no danger. "

#1 - So now we are going to have frozen windows break out, instead of leaky hoses.

#2 - Why in the world are the hoses leaking to the 'outside'? We have hoses outside?

#3 - Why have we no 'spare' hoses? Flex hoses are notorious for leaking - NO SPARE Hoses on board ????? LOL (cry cry)
54 posted on 01/12/2004 1:19:43 PM PST by XBob
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To: XBob
I 'm not familiar with this particular system. On the shuttle, we had the WCCS [Window Condensation Control System], but it was entirely inside the pressure vessel. I didn't know anything about that one either, because it had no moving parts and required no human input.

All it consisted of was some nitrogen regulators and tubing that purged the space between the three-pane windows with dry nitrogen. I don't know whether the system discharged to the outside or back into the crew module.

I don't think the window will crack, but it will certainly ice up due to the moisture in the module.

55 posted on 01/12/2004 1:31:48 PM PST by snopercod (I talk to myself because I like dealing with a better class of people.)
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To: snopercod
55 - They (NASA) really seem to be keeping quiet about this leak, and seem to be handling it bass ackwards. Watch your head !!! They almost got me here in Texas on that last one.
56 posted on 01/13/2004 3:51:07 PM PST by XBob
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To: XBob
Space station leak caused by crew, experts say

Russian officials claim crew members used flex hose as handhold

In a February 2001 photo, space station astronaut Sergei Krikalev peers out the Destiny module's optical-quality window. The U-shaped "flex hose" is visible above his head.

By James Oberg
NBC News space analyst
Special to MSNBC

Updated: 1:07 a.m. ET Jan. 16, 2004The break in the pressure hose that resulted in the troublesome space station air leak was unknowingly caused over time by crew members, Russian space experts said Thursday.

NASA officials in Houston concur with that theory. Another seemingly minor error in a procedure has rendered the U.S.-built Destiny laboratory module’s main window — the best optical window ever installed in any human space vehicle — inoperative for the time being, at least until a replacement hose can be sent into space.

For two weeks, astronaut Michael Foale and cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri had searched for something wrong in the valves, windows, seals, or hull of their orbital outpost. Air was seeping out at more than five times the normal rate. Although there was no imminent threat to their health or to the station’s functioning, the small leak was a worrisome anomaly that had to be solved.

On Sunday, during what was officially off-duty time, Foale located the leak and took remedial action.

The original damage to the pressure hose was probably due to inadvertent misuse during the three years that the station has been occupied. Moscow’s Itar-Tass news agency on Thursday quoted experts at the Russian Aviation and Space Agency as saying that they believe the U-shaped hose near Destiny's main window was repeatedly bent by station crew members who used it to stabilize themselves while taking pictures out the window.

“The present crew is no more guilty than preceding ones,” the news agency quoted one Russian expert as saying. Photographs taken on board the station show crew members holding onto the loop.

NASA astronauts had not installed handholds at the window because they were waiting for the delivery of a rack assembly that was designed for installation over the window and would have provided the handholds. Due to last February's Columbia tragedy, the delivery was delayed. The assembly is now scheduled to be brought to the station on the second post-Columbia shuttle flight.

Experts at NASA's Johnson Space Center were aware of the potential for a leak in the hose, and acknowledge that they weren't as quick to pinpoint the source of the leak as they might have been. NASA documentation clearly states, “If there is damage to the Window Flexhose, remove it to stop leaking to space.”

What the hose does

The hose normally connects two air valves (called “ports”) on the rim of the window. One runs into the volume between the two fused silica pressure panes, and the other vents directly into open space. This prevents moist air from accumulating between the panes and creating condensation. Besides degrading the view, notes a NASA reference document, “moisture accelerates flaw growth” in the 1¼-inch-thick panes.

Moscow Mission Control Center official Viktor Blagov told Itar-Tass that Russian space vehicles use a different design. Since the 1970s, he explained, all windows on human space vehicles use super-dry nitrogen gas injected between the different panes and sealed there. The windows in the Russian segment of the space station are also built this way, he continued. As a result, he concluded, “the window would not become covered with moisture even at lowest temperatures.”

But the U.S. window is vulnerable to exactly that problem. According to air-to-ground conversations monitored privately, on Tuesday the crew noticed moisture between the two window panes. The crew reportedly requested permission to reconnect the damaged hose for a few minutes to vent that air into space. Instead, Mission Control in Houston gave them an alternate procedure using an undamaged, longer service hose to another vacuum port.

NASA spokesperson Kylie Moritz in Houston said she was unable to verify that the crew had spotted moisture, but did confirm that air had inadvertently leaked into the interpane area on Sunday. “Their first priority was in stopping the leak,” she explained.

Where the moisture came from
According to an MSNBC.com source, this moisture-bearing air had originally been introduced into the interpane volume because of a trivial crew error. They disconnected the leaky flex hose incorrectly on Sunday, when they first located the leak. The crew should have first disconnected the end attached to the port to the interpane volume, sealing it off, and then quickly unhooked the line from the other port, the one leading to vacuum. Instead, they unhooked the vacuum port first, so for a brief moment cabin air was sucked through the tube into the interpane space which until then had been at a vacuum.

This introduced air, moisture, dust and microbes into this volume. To prevent condensation and microbial growth, the crew was then told to close the window’s outer shutter. And although the interpane depressurization had originally been planned for Thursday, MSNBC.com has obtained a copy of NASA’s official-use-only daily status report that says the action has been “deferred to a later date, because of concerns about flash condensation.”

“The activity will probably have to await the arrival of the new jumper on Progress 13P,” the internal report continued, referring to a Russian robot supply mission to be launched at the end of January.

In the meantime, the window’s external shutter remains closed to protect it for its future primary purpose of remote sensing. The window is unavailable for Earth surface photography. The possibility of some irreversible degradation of its optical properties from the contamination remains under study.
57 posted on 01/18/2004 9:12:35 AM PST by snopercod (You know something is going on here, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?)
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To: All

58 posted on 01/18/2004 9:14:13 AM PST by snopercod (You know something is going on here, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?)
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To: Fred Hayek
post 24
Boy this bring back bad memoirs for me---The Apolla was coated with gold on the inside and Project manager ----To protect the Appolla from scraps and bump he coated the inside with a foam type --oil base----and O2---

stupid manager
59 posted on 01/18/2004 9:26:08 AM PST by ralph rotten
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To: XBob
#3 - Why have we no 'spare' hoses? Flex hoses are notorious for leaking - NO SPARE Hoses on board ????? LOL (cry cry)

An even better question - why the heck wasn't this hose designed to be grabbed in the first place? Surely somebody must have known it would be used for exactly that purpose when this white elephant was designed.

60 posted on 01/18/2004 9:30:29 AM PST by Johnny_Cipher (It hurt to do that. But the Pats will kill the winner anyway (if they get past Indy).)
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