Spaceflight Now STS-102

Fire alarm sends station crew scrambling

Posted: 1650 GMT, March 19, 2001

The Expedition Two crew had to deal with a false fire alarm on their first day in charge of the International Space Station, pictured here by the departing Discovery. Photo: Spaceflight Now/NASA TV
A fire alarm went off in the Destiny laboratory module of the international space station today. It turned out to be a false alarm, but it shut down ventilation systems, computers dropped off line and the station's new crew was unable to find the documentation needed to reactive critical systems.

While electronic documentation apparently is available in at least one of the station's on-board laptop computers, the crew was not able to access it, a safety shortcoming that caught observers by surprise.

The incident occurred toward the end of the crew's working day. A smoke detector in the Destiny module apparently was triggered by dust stirred up when the crew members were moving equipment about.

The false reading triggered the station's fire alarm system, which automatically shut down the lab's ventilation, a routine precaution to slow the spread of a real fire.

The computers shut down about the same time, but it's not yet clear if that was caused by the false alarm or because of some other issue.

During a pass over a Russian ground station, Expedition Two commander Yury Usachev briefed Russian flight controllers on what had happened.

"The lab and the system in the service module and FGB reacted, but there was no comm (communication) and MPV did not work," he said. "As far as the paper, on board documents, we did not have that and therefore we were a little bit confused because we did not have a real fire.

"It is clear this is just an off-nominal work of the smoke detectors," he said. "But the situation is not very good."

Ground controllers then asked for a blow-by-blow description of what had happened.

"We heard the emergency alarm, which was the false smoke detector alarm, and the ventilation in the lab, the service module and the FGB deactivated, we only had ventilation only in the (Unity) node," Usachev said. "Right now, the ventilation in the service module is active again but we don't have it in the lab yet.

"We looked at the smoke detector where it is, there was no smoke, no smell of smoke," he continued. "It is obvious that this is a false alarm.

"As far as the off-nominal situation in the on-board documentation, we don't have it on board and it should be sent via email. But the computers are not working, therefore we do not have the E version of the procedure and we don't have ventilation as well."

Flight controllers in Houston were able to restart the Destiny module's ventilators and by 11:20 a.m., flight engineer Susan Helms reported the station's laptops were running normally again.

"We heard it kick on and we think we're in good shape," she said.

Flight controllers promised to study the incident to determine what happened and to resolve the matter of the missing documentation.

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