Skip to comments.Convenient Crew Handhold Caused Station Air Leak
Posted on 01/23/2004 11:15:49 PM PST by Aracelis
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A poorly designed flexible air hose used by one too many astronauts as a makeshift handhold caused the recent air leak at the International Space Station, NASA's top station manager said Friday.
Analysis shows that a hole about one-tenth of an inch in diameter popped open at one end of the metallic hose in late December and started the slow leak that took controllers a couple of weeks to detect, and the astronauts to find and repair.
Nearly two weeks later air pressure is almost back to normal inside the orbiting outpost and the quality of the atmosphere is good, said station chief Bill Gerstenmaier.
"I look at this as kind of a close call for us," Gerstenmaier said. The incident has prompted a review of the hardware design and the procedures controllers and the crew will use in the future.
Moreover, NASA's new Engineering and Safety Center at Langley Research Center in Virginia has been invited by Gerstenmaier to independently determine if there are quicker ways to detect an air leak on the station.
The safety center was established following the Columbia tragedy as a sort of engineering tiger team that can work on specific problems other NASA programs are facing.
Gerstenmaier said this incident certainly qualifies as an opportunity to do just that.
"The question is, if we step back and we turn some independent folks on to go take a look at it, is there anything that they can do... that might improve our ability to find very small leaks," he said.
The hose in question is located in the U.S. Destiny science module, just above an optically pure, telescope-quality window that has two panes.
One end of the hose is exposed to the vacuum of space, while the other fits into the small area between the window panes and keeps it free of cabin air.
"It's not a very good design. There's not a lot of places down in the window to really hold on to," Gerstenmaier said. "This is an awful attractive device to touch from a crew standpoint."
Similar hardware has been known to crack with just a few twists and turns of the metal fittings, so it's likely a contributing cause of the leak was the constant use by astronauts of this hose as a handhold.
Gerstenmaier said the safety center also will take a look at the hose design and see where else in the station program there might be potential risk for leaks.
At the same time, seven windows in a future U.S. station segment called the cupola and two windows in the Japanese science module will have its flexible hoses replaced or redesigned, he said.
Flight controllers and space station crew members also will work on their emergency drill for dealing with small leaks in the future -- something the Expedition Eight crew of Mike Foale and Alexander Kaleri practiced in orbit on Friday.
"We're really good for the big leaks, but for the small leaks of this order of magnitude I think we can do better and have some (new) procedures on board," Gerstenmaier said.
On Monday the Expedition Eight crew will reach its 100th day in space.
Next week will be busy for the station team. A Russian Progress freighter is to undock from the outpost on Wednesday and a new Progress launched from Kazakhstan on Thursday. It is to dock with the station next Saturday.
Hey prof, its hard to imagine why they haven't stuck a milk crate in that spot, so they have to pull things they shouldn't pull
and how are the girls?
I don't understand, if one end of this hose is between the window panes, and the other is outside in space, who is grabbing it?
No mention of when the segment and module might be transported to the ISS.