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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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1 posted on 01/09/2004 11:54:36 AM PST by blam
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To: John H K
Thanks for the article.
2 posted on 01/09/2004 11:55:12 AM PST by blam
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To: All


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3 posted on 01/09/2004 11:58:08 AM PST by Support Free Republic (If Woody had gone straight to the police, this would never have happened!)
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To: blam
Need Bondo.
4 posted on 01/09/2004 11:58:48 AM PST by Poohbah ("Beware the fury of a patient man" -- John Dryden)
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To: Poohbah
Duct tape.
5 posted on 01/09/2004 12:02:53 PM PST by Sabatier
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To: blam
OK, here's the theory: The universe is not only expanding, everything in it is expanding too. Ergo, the space station is expanding which causes the air pressure to drop. Either that or President Bush is stealing the air to kill these guys and cause pain for their families/children.
6 posted on 01/09/2004 12:09:25 PM PST by trebb
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To: trebb
"Either that or President Bush is stealing the air to kill these guys and cause pain for their families/children."

That sounds like the most reasonable answer.

7 posted on 01/09/2004 12:16:24 PM PST by blam
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To: blam; XBob; RadioAstronomer; NormsRevenge; snopercod; computermechanic; Ferryman; Budge; ...
I just pulled the names off the long, long orbiter thread. Curious what you folks think. Thanks for posting Blam.
8 posted on 01/09/2004 12:24:49 PM PST by leadpenny
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To: leadpenny
MEMO to MSNBC: If it's leaking then IT AIN'T AIRTIGHT! Numbnut reporters.
9 posted on 01/09/2004 12:26:11 PM PST by GungaLaGunga
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To: GungaLaGunga
You mean AP?
10 posted on 01/09/2004 12:31:12 PM PST by leadpenny
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To: GungaLaGunga
They were talking about the prime suspect, an air purifier. It turned out to be ok.
11 posted on 01/09/2004 12:34:41 PM PST by leadpenny
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To: Sabatier
Duct tape.

But where to put the tape?

Hmmm, maybe these people can help out.

12 posted on 01/09/2004 12:36:47 PM PST by Calvin Locke
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To: blam
I would ask commiecrat senator Patrick Leahy where the leak is.
13 posted on 01/09/2004 12:39:24 PM PST by Visalia
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To: blam
Micro-meteorite? Didn't they hear a bang a few weeks back that's still unexplained?
14 posted on 01/09/2004 12:42:15 PM PST by djf
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To: blam
There are plenty of places on Earth where people live with much lower air pressure...

IIRC, the Apollo era pressure was 5 psi. Probably had to boost it in order to provide an environment that a relatively
non-select portion of the population could get in to space [aboard US craft].

Bloating in females, comes to mind. (Maybe I should say brain swelling comes to mind, first?)

I think it was a "safety" design. That pressure could be maintained long enough for the donning of pressure suits if the capsule acquired 0.5" hole.

15 posted on 01/09/2004 12:49:52 PM PST by Calvin Locke
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To: leadpenny
Something strikes me as wrong about the Las Vegas air pressure.

Trying to find a list of air pressures by altitude. BRB

16 posted on 01/09/2004 1:03:28 PM PST by Lokibob
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To: blam
Just spray the outside with soapy water and look for the bubbles.
17 posted on 01/09/2004 1:06:41 PM PST by bayourod ( Dean's anti-terrorism plan: "treat people with respect and they will treat you with respect"12/1/03)
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To: Lokibob
Don't know the elevation. If it's 12psi at Denver and Mexico City, that sounds about right.
18 posted on 01/09/2004 1:07:18 PM PST by leadpenny
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To: Lokibob
Generally around 2000' ASL. Sounds about right.
19 posted on 01/09/2004 1:15:13 PM PST by leadpenny
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To: leadpenny
I got that, LV altitude is 2124'. Just can't find the standard pressure for that altitude.
20 posted on 01/09/2004 1:20:23 PM PST by Lokibob
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To: Lokibob
Now ya got me wondering. Drudge's reference desk has a link that will convert just about anything. I'm going over there.
21 posted on 01/09/2004 1:26:35 PM PST by leadpenny
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To: blam
Leaks? We didn't send this guy up there, did we?


22 posted on 01/09/2004 1:35:54 PM PST by COBOL2Java (If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you are reading this in English, thank a soldier.)
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To: Lokibob
OK, here is what I did. Rule of thumb is one inch of Mercury for each 1000' in altitude. At 2000' that would be 27.92. That converts to 13.7psi. So 2124' would be close to 13.6. BTW, that is what it is called on the ref desk: Convert Anything (on the left side of the page). Great site.
23 posted on 01/09/2004 1:43:10 PM PST by leadpenny
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To: Calvin Locke
The Apollo era also used a pure oxygen atmosphere. That is what caused severity of the capsule fire in the Apollo 1 test, however that was at a 1 atm internal pressure (14.7 psia, which may not to healthy as well, outside of fire considerations). (Question to freepers who may have worked on Apollo: after the fire did NASA go to an N2/O2 atmosphere in the command module at 14.7 psia, changing to 5 psia pure oxygen somewhere in the flight profile?). I suspect that the ISS has an N2/O2 atmosphere. Could be wrong. Another consideration for the air pressure, since equipment operation was mentioned, is heat conduction, although fans may be needed. Insufficient air density results in less heat carryoff. I have seen power transformers de-rated for high elevation (starting at 4000 feet). Another DUMB question for any aerospace freepers - Can there be convective cooling in a zero-gee enviroment, or are circulation fans needed.
24 posted on 01/09/2004 1:47:32 PM PST by Fred Hayek
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To: COBOL2Java
No, but maybe we could.
25 posted on 01/09/2004 1:48:07 PM PST by leadpenny
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To: leadpenny
great, thanks. Bet I use that reference a lot.
26 posted on 01/09/2004 1:50:42 PM PST by Lokibob
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To: blam

Did they check the AE-35 unit?

27 posted on 01/09/2004 1:56:47 PM PST by ZOOKER
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To: leadpenny
They need an ultrasonic leak detector up there. Air leaking through a small leak makes a "whistle" that can be picked up with an ultrasonic sensor.
28 posted on 01/09/2004 3:03:16 PM PST by snopercod (Wishing y'all a prosperous, happy, and FREE new year!)
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To: leadpenny; snopercod; bonesmccoy
8 - Thanks for the ping. What I do know, is that they are running out of pressure pretty fast. A few more weeks. They NASA, better get off their butts and do something - fast, or they will be abandoning ship.

this is ridiculous, that they don't have a plan, for something as simple and predictable as a leak, and closing off the compartment hatches. MY GOODNESS, THEY ARE STOOOPID!!! Two weeks of leaking and they don't even have a plan yet? A plan they should have had before the first launch? Shades of o-rings and falling off foam.

Everybody, cover your heads, and duck !!!!

quote:

"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."
29 posted on 01/09/2004 5:15:44 PM PST by XBob
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To: ZOOKER
LOL! Open the pod bay doors.......
30 posted on 01/09/2004 5:19:49 PM PST by Brett66
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To: XBob
XBob said: "This is ridiculous, that they don't have a plan, for something as simple and predictable as a leak, and closing off the compartment hatches. "

It doesn't seem to make sense, does it?

Sealing the compartments would allow for eliminating many systems as the possible cause.

Additionally, while waiting until the proper time to repair the leak, it might be possible to pump atmosphere from the leaky compartment to the others. One could raise the pressure in the non-leaky areas, lower it substantially in the leaky area, and thus reduce considerably the amount of air lost to the leak.

If access to the leaky compartment was not needed often, it might be possible to extend by an order of magnitude or more the amount of time available to fix the leak.

Also, there is little mention of a reserve supply of atmosphere. I would think that pressurized tanks could have been used to store spare air and these tanks could be re-supplied periodically. After all, if you run out of air, what need is there of anything else?

Are there any Freepers who can supply an explanation for what we see happening?

31 posted on 01/09/2004 6:12:13 PM PST by William Tell
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To: blam
Potentially scary stuff. Slow leaks sometimes have a tendency to turn into fast ones.
32 posted on 01/09/2004 6:15:22 PM PST by Johnny_Cipher ("... and twenty thousand bucks to complete my robot. My GIRL robot.")
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To: William Tell
I hope they've ruled out a faulty measurement device, in case it's not leaking at all.

Bush's new space proposal basically pulls the plug on this stupid multi-national feel-good project anyway, so I don't care if they abandon ship. It's doomed in any event.

Stick it in a bathtub, and see where the bubbles come out.

33 posted on 01/09/2004 6:23:15 PM PST by Dog Gone
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To: Dog Gone
Dog Gone said: "Stick it in a bathtub, and see where the bubbles come out."

Of course, if they allow very much more leakage, then there will be no bubbles coming out. They will have to look for water spraying in. (Lots of assumptions regarding the tub and its environs.)

Good point about the reliability of the instrumentation. Perhaps they are seeing the result of a corroding electrical connection. How much of this stuff was purchased from the lowest bidder ( our system ) or manufactured by slave ( socialist ) labor?

34 posted on 01/09/2004 7:42:12 PM PST by William Tell
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To: William Tell
pressurized tanks could have been used to store spare air

They would have enough spare air to cover ordinary leakage, and there is ordinary leakage.

35 posted on 01/09/2004 7:46:09 PM PST by RightWhale (How many technological objections will be raised?)
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To: djf
Exactly what I was thinking. Seems to me they gave the hunt to track down the cause of that noise a little too quickly.
36 posted on 01/09/2004 7:46:51 PM PST by LibWhacker
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To: LibWhacker
gave up
37 posted on 01/09/2004 7:48:27 PM PST by LibWhacker
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To: William Tell
Yeah, the tub sounds like a pretty good idea for the first two or three seconds until you actually think about it.
38 posted on 01/09/2004 7:55:55 PM PST by Dog Gone
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To: Calvin Locke
Mentioning "bloating in females" could be construed as a serious safety issue . . .
39 posted on 01/09/2004 8:20:02 PM PST by BraveMan
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To: William Tell; Robert A. Cook, PE
31 - "Are there any Freepers who can supply an explanation for what we see happening?"

More NASA incompetence.

I think we would do better putting a 6 year old StarTrekkie in charge.

40 posted on 01/09/2004 8:28:33 PM PST by XBob
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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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