Spaceflight Now STS-107

Crew deals with cooling problem in laboratory
Posted: January 21, 2003

The Columbia astronauts are pressing ahead with a full-slate of orbital research today, adjusting the shuttle's air conditioner to make up for a loss of cooling in their Spacehab research module. NASA managers describe the problem as an "annoyance," saying it will have no impact on the crew's science agenda.

A view down the tunnel linking the Columbia's crew cabin to the Spacehab Research Double Module. Photo: NASA
"The orbiter and the crew are all doing very, very well," said Phil Engelauf, a senior flight director representing NASA's mission operations directorate. "They're all in good spirits, everybody seems to be doing very well. The orbiter also is doing great, we have no significant anomalies to report on the orbiter.

"The only thing that we have of any significance to talk about is at this point, an annoyance and we think we're going to be around the corner on that (soon). We have had a cooling problem with the Spacehab cooling system. It's technically actually a problem with separating out condensed water. The cooling system is cooling OK, but in order to avoid getting a lot of condensed water under the floorboards back there, we've had to back off on some of the cooling. We're in the process of a workaround."

Columbia has its own cooling system, which is working normally. The Spacehab research module in the shuttle's cargo bay has a cooling system as well, which utilizes a device called a "rotary separator" to remove excess water, or humidity, from the air as it is cooled. Two rotary separators are available for redundancy.

On Saturday, rotary separator No. 1 shut down after becoming flooded with excess water. The astronauts turned on the backup and used towels to soak up about two quarts of water from the engineering spaces under the floor of the module. The backup worked fine until Sunday, when it shorted out and blew a circuit breaker. Both separators have been off since then.

Engineers told the crew to turn down the shuttle's thermostat to send more cold air back to the Spacehab module. In addition, the astronauts have been adjusting valves in the Spacehab module to modify how cooling water circulates between various experiment packages and subsystems.

"We're in the process of trying to implement a quick fix by adjusting the amount of cooling water that flows to different parts of the Spacehab to provide more cooling to some of the equipment racks in order to keep all the experiments operating," Engelauf said. "Even though the air temperatures are a little bit warmer in the hab than they would normally be, it's really not a factor for the crew, it's really not outside their comfort level. ... We think we have the temperature problem essentially under control."

He said the normal temperature in the shuttle is 72 degrees. After the Spacehab cooling system problem, the temperature climbed as high as 84 degrees or so before dropping back down to around 76 degrees. One experiment missed a data run today because of the problems, but Engelauf said the astronauts will make that up later with no loss of science.

Otherwise, NASA mission scientist John Charles said today the crew's research agenda is on track. The astronauts are carrying out more than 80 government, university, commercial and student experiments during the course of Columbia's 16-day mission, working around the clock in two 12-hour shifts to maximize the science return.

The day shift - commander Rick Husband, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon took a break today to chat with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem.

"Our congratulations and our blessings from Jerusalem, the capitol of the Jewish people for 3,000 years and for eternity," Sharon radioed. He thanked President Bush and former President Bill Clinton "who decided to send one of our astronauts to space."

"I would like to thank NASA as well and to all those who have exerted effort to bring us to this achievement," Sharon said. "And I hope it is just one amongst all our flights into space."

Ramon at one point held up a small scroll given to him by a Holocaust survivor who is now a professor at Tel Aviv University and a member of the Israeli shuttle research team. The Torah scroll was given to the professor, then a boy, by a rabbi who died in the same concentration camp.

"This represents more than anything the ability of the Jewish people to survive despite everything from horrible periods, black days, to reach periods of hope and belief in the future," Ramon said, floating on the shuttle's flight deck.

Sharon invited Ramon and his shuttle crewmates to visit Israel after the flight.

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