Friday, December 27, 2013

ISS Pump Working, Russians take their turn

Astronauts work to install the new coolant pump. Credit: NASA TV.

On a Christmas Eve EVA, astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins  completed repairs to the station's cooling system by finishing installation of the new Pump on the station truss segment. During the spacewalk, designated EVA-25 by NASA, the pair of explorers managed to complete in two spacewalks all the tasks that had been planned for three! The original plan called for the first EVA to disconnect the broken equipment, then on the second EVA the pump would be removed and stored safely while the new system would be placed, and finally on the third EVA the installation of the new unit would be completed. Instead, the astronauts showed their professionalism and skill by fitting all three EVA tasks into two long EVA's. This second spacewalk lasted

Astronaut Maastrachio works on the pump.

According to, new quick-disconnect pipes on the coolant pump helped to make removal of the device much more simple than previous designs would have allowed. On the first spacewalk Saturday, the astronauts got ahead of schedule and finished the removal of the bad unit and connected the hoses back into the system so that the coolant could remain liquid inside the station. Then on Tuesday the astronauts removed the protective insulation around the new unit, which had been thoughtfully placed on a storage position on the truss ahead of time, and then moved the pump into position for final installation.

Mike Hopkins, space repairman.

After the first spacewalk, it was thought that water had again gotten inside one of the suits, but it turned out that the water had leaked during procedures once the men were back inside the station. Rick Mastracchio was actually glad to have ended EVA-24 a bit early, as there were some discomfort issues with his spacesuit near the end of the spacewalk. He used a different suit for the EVA-25.

Check out the detailed description of the spacewalk at 

The fun does not stop! Even now as I write this, the Russians are performing another spacewalk. Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy are outside the station installing scientific experiments and two special Canadian cameras which recently arrived on a Progress cargo spacecraft. Kotov also has a GoPro camera on his spacesuit arm, so we would hope to see some interesting views eventually.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Keeping Their Cool: ISS EVA removes Pump

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio works to remove the Ammonia Pump. Credit NASA TV.

This is not the first time that the ISS has had a problem with the coolant system. And this time, NASA has been prepared. A spare ammonia coolant pump was previously placed in storage outside the station just for this type of situation. On Saturday Dec. 21, astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins donned their american-designed spacewalk suits and exited the station through the Quest airlock. Both astronauts are veterans of the space program, and both have made EVAs before. For Mastracchio this was his 7th spacewalk and the 2nd for Hopkins. The EVA was the 175th spacewalk for ISS maintenance and assembly. 

Astronaut Mastracchio and the ammonia pump are moved at the end of the robotic arm.

The astronauts quickly moved ahead of schedule and after detaching the hoses and wires from the defective unit, reconnected the station coolant system hoses so that the coolant in the system could remain liquid. WIth time to spare, they moved on to the first task scheduled for the next EVA, and while attached to the robotic arm and guided by astronaut Koichi Wakata, Mastrachio attached the defective pump to a storage location on the Truss segment.

Since the recent suit malfunction in which astronaut Parmitano experienced a water leak in his EVA helmet, NASA has been concerned that the same event coould occur again. In preparation for the EVA, astronauts on the station "McGuyvered" an extra breathing tube in the helmet for the two spacewalkers. In this spacewalk, however, both suits remained dry and the astronauts returned to the station on time. Two more EVA's are planned to complete the repair to the station coolant system.

You can read an excellent detailed account of the EEVA at NASA

Friday, December 13, 2013

Attack of the Geminids

Take Cover! Space Rocks are entering the atmosphere RIGHT NOW!

It's time for the annual encounter with debris from the comet 3200 Phaethon. Each year, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, we come upon the orbital path taken by the comet, which is considered a "B-Type" asteroid, having a dark surface and still emitting dust and debris as its elliptical orbit (more like a comet than asteroid) brings it closer to the Sun. Its orbit is classed as an Apollo-type, and it orbits out from the Sun farther than the Earth's orbit but regularly crosses our path. Astronomers have linked the debris shed by 3200 Phaethon as the exact objects that encounter the Earth during the Geminid meteor shower each year. You can read more about 3200 Phaeton at: .

Geminid meteors will be seen coming from the constellation Gemini. Chart view from Sky and

If you have the endurance to look for the meteors during this very cold winter blast, look toward the constellation of Gemini. Sky and Telescope Magazine has a nice chart for you at:

The Geminid shower started last night, and according to reports in, the NASA cameras have detected 23 Fireballs over the US so far, and we can expect the shower to last over the next few days. Check out the orbital paths of the debris at: while he has the images up.

Geminid Fireball from 2011. Credit Mount Washington Valley Astronomy:

From the Command Bunker: I should be safe from the bombardment here in the SpaceRubble Command Bunker. It's a very rare thing indeed for a home to be hit from a meteorite, but then again, look what just happened to the Russians in Chelyabinsk! I'm afraid I won't be spending Too Much time observing for meteor trails, as the temperature here is far below freezing at night. Yet, if the sky is clear tonight, the peak of the meteor shower is expected Dec. 12-13. Based on the report of fireballs, it seems that the outer space enemy of the Comet Empire still has some life in that old asteroid 3200 Phaeton, and these bombardments can be expected next year and many years after that. Shields Up! 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Progress 35 Docks to ISS after Glitch

Progress Capsule on approach to ISS, from a previous mission.

On late Friday November 30, the Progress M-21M (NASA designation Progress 53) robotic space cargo delivery spacecraft was finally docked to the Russian-built Zvesda module on the ISS. After it first reached rendezvous with the station, ground controllers had the ship perform a 1-mile flyby of the station to check out the Kurs automated docking system. All systems seemed ready, and the approach was initiated, but the craft suddenly went into station-keeping mode about 60 meters from the docking port.

Expedition 38 commander Oleg Kotov practicing the maneuvers for manual docking of a Progress vehicle. This practice would come in handy just a couple of days later.

Not to worry: Oleg was there. Oleg Kotov is the Expedition 38 commander, having recently taken command from Expedition 37 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin just last month. Just as recently as Nov. 22nd, he and fellow cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin practiced the techniques required to manually dock the Progress in case of a system glitch. Manually in this case means, remote-control from the station, as opposed to allowing the Progress auto-docking Kurs system to perfrom the maneuvers under supervision from Ground COntrollers. On Friday, Commander Kotov took to the laptop-controlled ISS system to pass radio controls to the Progress 53 craft, and docking was completed successfully. 

Progress capsules are launched on the Soyuz family of rockets.

This Progress mission lifted off from Baikonur on Monday November 25, and took the normally longer orbital route to the station in order to test upgrades to the automated systems. It carries about 3 tons of neeeded supplies to the station, including water, propellant, atmosphere, and parts. The docking hatches were opened Saturday and the crew will take out supplies as schedule permits. Eventually the capsule will be filled with disposables and trash and then burned up over the ocean next year.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

International Push to the Planets

India's Mangalyaan Mars mission lifts off from Sriharikota.

India and China have set their sights on missions to far off worlds. On November 5, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched a PSLV-C25 rocket carrying the Mangalyaan mission on its way to the Red Planet. Without many of the resources the US includes in NASA, India is trying to achieve it's mission at a very low cost - only about $73 million. After six orbits of the Earth, the craft launched itself on a slingshot orbit around the Sun (to gain speed from the gravity assist). The MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) is expected to arrive at Mars next September, and the challenge will be to get the craft into Mars' orbit. After arriving, it will makes studies of the ground composition and analyze elements of the atmosphere.

Long March 3B liftoff from Xichang launch facilities in Sichuan. Xinhua credit.

Early Sunday morning China sent its Yutu rover on its way to the Moon atop a Long March rocket. Lifting off from Sichuan, China, the Long March successfully placed the lunar craft on a trajectory to the Moon. Solar panels have deployed and are powering the spacecraft during its journey. The robotic rover, Yutu, has a plutonium-powered motor for its exploration of the lunar surface. The attempt to land the rover on its surface-lander craft will be made on December 14. If all goes well, it should arrive in the Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridum) and begin exploring shortly after. The Chang'e 3 mission is a testbed of topographic recognition systems, chemical analysis, and lunar dust radar penetrator instruments. By 202, China hopes to launch a sample-return mission.

China's Yutu lunar rover. AFP credit.