Spacewalk delayed 24 hours by crew medical issue
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: February 9, 2008
In a surprise announcement, flight controllers today told the shuttle-station astronauts shortly after Atlantis docked with the lab complex to delay a planned Sunday spacewalk - and installation of the new Columbus research module - by 24 hours, extending Atlantis' mission by one day because of a crew medical issue.
German astronaut Hans Schlegel, originally scheduled to join Rex Walheim for the first of three spacewalks planned for the mission, will be replaced by astronaut Stan Love when the module is attached on Monday. No reason was given for the delay and astronaut swap, but the shuttle crew requested two private medical conferences with flight surgeons earlier today.
NASA does not discuss astronaut health issues, citing concern about medical privacy issues, and John Shannon, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team, refused to provide any details at an afternoon briefing.
"It's not life threatening," Shannon said, refusing to identify which astronaut was involved.
The shuttle docked with the space station at 12:17 p.m. but because of technical issues, only a few minutes of live video were downlinked. Late today, the astronauts replayed videotape showing the shuttle crew entering the station and Schlegel did not show any clear signs of discomfort.
"There was a medical issue with the crew," Shannon said during his briefing. "The flight surgeons - of course, we have flight surgeons who are closely involved with the crew at all times, they do private medical conferences with the crew throughout the mission - the crew called down and asked for one during the rendezvous, which was a little bit of a surprise to us. They talked to the crew members, they understood what the issue was. I will just say it is not going to impact any of the objectives of this mission."
But it will have a mission impact. The first of the three spacewalks planned for Atlantis' mission, originally scheduled for Sunday by Walheim and Schlegel, was devoted to helping attach the European Space Agency's Columbus research lab to the station. That work now will be delayed one day and Love, who is not believed to have trained as extensively for the work as Schlegel, will assist Walheim. Love already planned to join Walheim for the mission's third spacewalk.
Citing medical privacy concerns, Shannon repeatedly refused to answer any questions about the nature of the medical issue, including whether the astronauts face any sort of contagious threat or whether Schlegel might be available for the second spacewalk of the mission, now targeted for Wednesday.
"You guys can fish all day, but I won't bite," Shannon said.
But about half the men and women who fly in space suffer nausea and other vestibular problems known collectively as space adaptation syndrome. But those symptoms typically go away by the second or third day of a mission as the astronaut becomes accustomed to the effects of weightlessness. Whether Schlegel, a 57-year-old German and father of seven making his second shuttle flight, was suffering from SAS was not known.
There are at least two prior cases of crew illness interferring with a U.S. spacewalk. During Apollo 9, a shakedown flight for NASA's lunar lander, Rusty Schweickart became ill in orbit, forcing a one-day delay for a planned spacewalk. An EVA planned for the fifth shuttle mission was called off because of a crew health issue.
Shannon said astronaut Leland Melvin, making his first flight, is the designated crew medical officer on board Atlantis and as such is "experienced in a variety of medical procedures. We carry a kit on board that has several different types of medicines and different medical capabilities and the crew is in constant contact with the flight surgeons on the ground. The flight surgeons know all about each crew members' medical history. It's something that's very well prepared for."
Shannon said Atlantis has plenty of supplies to support the one-day mission extension and, with additional power downs ordered late today, probably enough for a second day. NASA went into the flight planning to extend it by one day anyway to give the astronauts more time to activate the Columbus module.
The undisclosed medical issue "will cause us to re-arrange a few activities," Shannon said. "I think you heard it called up to the crew a little bit earlier that we're going to delay EVA number one by one day and it will be executed on flight day five. They also called up that Stan Love will replace Hans Schlegel as an EVA crew member.
"Stan has practiced all the activities of EVA-1 extensively and we talked it over with the crew and they're very happy with that and that's how we're going to go execute it," Shannon said. "So no impacts to the mission objectives, we just need to re-arrange some of the crew activities and when they happen. You might remember we went into this flight with one additional day we could add to it and we are very close to having a second day based on how we use the cryogenic consumables that produce electricity.
"We asked the team, since we are essentially going to use that one extension day tomorrow as a day for the team to prepare for EVA number one, we asked the team to power down the orbiter just a little bit more than they had planned pre flight to make sure we can get that second additional extension day. We have not decided to add that, but we're preserving the option to add it later on. If we don't add it, then that will just be more oxygen we can transfer over to the international space station."
Otherwise, Shannon said Atlantis is in good condition and that so far, no major problems have emerged during analysis of ascent and on-orbit photography of the shuttle's protective heat shield.
A small corner of one insulation blanket midway back on the shuttle's right side orbital maneuvering system rocket pod is pulled up and under study, but Shannon said it did not appear to be a serious problem
"Nobody is very excited about this one," he said. "It is in a much different position (than a blanket that was repaired on Atlantis' last flight). ... This is really shadowed by the pod, it's also shadowed by the wing. It does not see a very significant thermal environment. I don't expect this to be an issue but the team will continue to work it."
The only other issue of any significance involves one of Atlantis' flight computers, general purpose computer No. 3. GPC-3 failed to properly transition from "standby" to "run" when the astronauts powered up the full redundant set as part of their normal rendezvous procedures earlier today. Engineers believe the computer is healthy, Shannon said, but troubleshooting was deferred until after docking.
Shannon said engineers plan to read out the computer's memory to verify no hardware problems exist and then they will re-load flight software and in all likelihood, "it'll be just as good as new."
Flight planners are in the process of developing an alternate flight plan for Sunday.