Spaceflight Now: STS-106 Mission Report

Hammer, chisel needed for space station battery work

Posted: September 13, 2000

Astronaut Dan Burbank and cosmonaut Boris Morukov work under a panel inside the Zarya module. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
Wielding a hammer and chisel, a U.S. astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut resorted to brute force early today to remove a poorly placed bracket that was blocking access to a space station electronics bay.

It was an unusually low-tech approach to solving a problem in the high-tech space station. But in the end, U.S. and Russian engineers agreed that sometimes, the simplest solution is the best solution.

"The big picture is we're going to want to use the chisel to sever the head of the rivet," radioed Rex Walheim from the space station mission control center in Houston. "That would be the crimped part of the rivet, not the head of it."

"Understand that," astronaut Daniel Burbank replied from orbit.

"You're going to get the one-half-inch chisel and the dead blow hammer and the flat head punch from the ISS took kit," Walheim continued. "That'll be kit K and the location for that is Node 1, D4, G2."

Burbank, a former Coast Guard "Perfect Storm" helicopter pilot, and physician-cosmonaut Boris Morukov were attempting to replace one of six batteries in the Russian-built NASA-financed Zarya propulsion module when they ran into trouble.

Four of the module's six batteries were replaced during a shuttle flight in May. The other two are being replaced during Atlantis' current mission.

Astronaut Ed Lu and Morukov hard at work beneath an area of Zvezda's floor. Photo: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now
Burbank and Morukov had no problems installing battery No. 6 and a charge-discharge controller early today in an electronics bay beneath Zarya's floor panels. But a bracket running across the bay in question prevented them from removing and replacing a voltage controller known by its Russian acronym, BUPT.

The bracket, it turned out, was held in place by screws as well as rivets securing four nut plates. The nut plates inexplicably blocked access to screws that helped hold the bracket in place. The only way to move the bracket, then, was to chisel the offending rivets out.

After collecting the proper tools, Burbank and Morukov did just that, with Burbank holding the chisel in place while Morukov hammered it in. After repeated blows, they were finally able to remove all four nut plates and move the offending bracket out of the way.

"And Houston, Atlantis, we just got the bracket out and it looks like we're ready to go with the BUPT now," Burbank reported.

"We copy that, Dan. Excellent work," Walheim replied.

"Yeah, thanks for your ideas and working all that with Moscow. It worked out real well."

A bit later, Russian flight controllers began charging the new battery and U.S. mission managers were pleased with the crew's impromptu efforts.

Yuri Malenchenko, Ed Lu and Terry Wilcutt float inside the U.S.-built Unity node. Photo: NASA
"The crew did a little bit of garage work," said space station flight director Mark Ferring. "We proceeded to go whack at that a couple of times and we got the nut plates off and after the bracket was removed, the rest of the task went normally."

Meanwhile, working in the new Zvezda command module, astronaut Edward Lu and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko pressed ahead with work to install three new batteries and associated controllers.

To save weight, the 42,000-pound Zvezda module was launched with just five of its eight batteries in place. Unlike their crewmates in the Zarya module, Lu and Malenchenko sailed through their battery installation work with no major problems.

With the battery installation complete, the astronauts will focus Wednesday night and Thursday on transferring supplies and equipment to the station; assembling an Elektron oxygen generator; hooking up a holding tank to the station's toilet; and installing battery chargers for use by visiting Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.

"There's a lot of activity yet to go," said Sharon Castle, overseeing logistics transfers from the shuttle to the space station. "We wanted to get some of those (battery) installations done first so we could get those down under the floor before we started transfers in earnest.

"In the next couple of days it's going to be hot and heavy."

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