Is The ISS In Trouble? Short Answer: Not Yet
What started as a troublesome glitch in stabilization systems
onboard the International Space Station has grown into a more
worrisome -- though not yet critical -- situation. On Thursday,
Russian-made computers that control the station's orientation in
orbit failed yet again, as did systems regulating the station's
oxygen and water supply.
Russian controllers were able to partially restore those
computers hours later, but not before the three-person Expedition
15 crew and seven members of visiting STS-117 were told to cut
power to non-critical equipment... including lighting systems,
according to Reuters.
NASA also decided to keep Atlantis docked to the station for one
more day, so the shuttle's thrusters could continue to assist in
orienting the station in the proper alignment with the sun. The
shuttle has intermittently assisted in that operation since
arriving at the orbital outpost Sunday.
"We're just trying to buy some margin for an extra docked day,"
astronaut Shane Kimbrough from Mission Control in Houston radioed
to the crew.
Engineers aren't sure what caused the computers to fail,
although the trouble began shortly after a newly-installed solar
panel began sending power to the station.
Even if those systems were to fail completely -- and crews were
unable to restore them -- the crew onboard the ISS would not be in
immediate danger. There is enough air onboard the ISS to sustain
the crew for over six weeks; while water supplies aren't quite that
ample, NASA says there is plenty to keep the crew safe while
determining a plan to either repair or abandon the ISS.
Should the latter prove to be the preferred option, the
station's three-person crew would use the station's docked Soyuz
capsule as a "lifeboat" to return to Earth after Atlantis undocks
from the station.
For the moment, however, abandoning the station remains a highly
remote possibility. For the remainder of Thursday, NASA says the
STS-117 and Expedition 15 crews will continue retracting solar
arrays and preparing for repair work during Friday's spacewalk,
scheduled to begin at 1318 EDT. The first task for STS-117 Mission
Specialists Jim Reilly and Danny Olivas will be to repair a thermal
blanket that pulled away from the orbital maneuvering system pod on
the rear of the shuttle during last Friday's launch.
In what may be the first-ever example of orbital needlecraft,
the astronauts will use a kit intended to repair torn spacesuits to
sew the thermal blanket back together.