Astronauts throw open door to station's new room
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: February 13, 2010
The combined crews of the shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station worked overnight Friday outfitting the new Tranquility module and preparing it for activation during a spacewalk Saturday night to connect ammonia coolant lines.
"The big activity today was the ingress of node 3, our new rec room," said lead station Flight Director Bob Dempsey. "Since then, they've been like busy bees running around inside the module, working away very diligently. ... The crew went in, took a few samples to make sure the air quality was exactly as we expected, took a few photos, obviously, to celebrate the moment and then got right down to work."
With the addition of Tranquility, or node 3, the International Space Station is more than 98 percent complete. The new module is the last major U.S. component scheduled for attachment to the lab complex.
Initial checkout work went well, but the crew ran into a problem installing a protective cover on the module's outboard hatch, an issue that likely will require corrective action before a new seven-window cupola can be moved to its permanent location.
To fit in the shuttle's cargo bay, the cupola was attached to Tranquility's outboard port. But the flight plan calls for the crew to move the cupola to Tranquility's Earth-facing hatch overnight Sunday. On Monday, the crew plans to move a pressurized mating adaptor docking port from the Harmony module to Tranquility's outboard port, the one currently occupied by the cupola.
Before the cupola is relocated, the astronauts need to install a cover on the outboard side of the mating interface to protect it from micrometeoroid impacts and low temperatures.
"What this cover is, it's about the diameter of the module and it fits on the end cone of each module that when we remove a module and expose the (docking interface) to space, you want some sort of protection," Dempsey said.
"This cover is made of multi-layer insulation and some supporting fabric to give you some debris protection as well. The intent was to install this cover so that when we move the cupola off of the node 3, we had it there protecting the end. There's a similar cover on the nadir side of node 3 where the cupola will be relocated to."
The cover is held in place by four bars that rotate closed to engage a set of hooks. When the astronauts attempted to secure the cover overnight Friday, they discovered a physical interference that prevented the bars from rotating far enough to lock in place.
"Unfortunately, when they installed it, we discovered that the bars, the four standoff bars that hold the MLI in place, cannot swing down into the locked position because (they're) bumping up against some structure in the cupola," Dempsey said.
"Therefore, we are looking at various options to see if we need the cover, how we're going to install it and if we have any clearance issues with the cover should we be berthing the cupola on the nadir side. This is still being assessed at this time, we're not sure of the impact. It'll probably make some changes to the timeline in a few days."
It may be possible to simply remove the underlying equipment that is causing the interference and then re-install it after the cupola is moved. Engineers also are assessing whether the cover can be left off and whether or not the cover currently in place on the nadir port might prevent the cupola from being attached.
"There is no immediate requirement to move the cupola down to its final location," Dempsey said. "Obviously, we've got the crew (on board) that's trained with the robotics so we'd prefer to do it. But if in the next few days we decide we need more time to think about it, we will. The main focus the next few days is going to be activating node 3, getting those systems up and running."
Dempsey said the space station's urine recycling system, repaired earlier in the mission with equipment brought up aboard Endeavour, appears to be working normally. As of early Saturday, 55 pounds of urine had been processed without incident.
But engineers were looking into an apparent problem with the station's potable water system. A new filter was installed earlier in the mission to address an issue with degraded performance, but the system still appears to have problems.
"We have had some reduced flow before," Dempsey said. "We're not certain at this point if it's the same sort of problem. It likely is. It appears to be happening between a valve and the new external filter that we installed earlier in the mission.
"We're going to ... do what we call a back flush, where we push some of the water back and bypass the filter and see if it's possibly a solenoid, a valve that is having some sort of debris that's blocking it. Alternatively, it could be the filter."
Astronauts Robert Behnken and Nicholas Patrick planned to spend the night in the Quest airlock module at a reduced pressure of 10.2 pounds per square inch to help purge their bodies of nitrogen before a spacewalk overnight Saturday to connect coolant lines between Tranquility and the station.
Crew wakeup is expected at 4:14 p.m. and the spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 9:09 p.m.