New Book Offers Inside Look at Station Flight Controllers

Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier
The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier, is now available to download for free at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH

Ever wanted a deeper dive into the life of the International Space Station? The flight directors in charge of the teams that oversee its systems have written a 400-page book that offers an inside look at the time and energy the flight control team at the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston devote to the development, planning and integration of a mission.

The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier, is now available to download for free at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.

Here’s an excerpt from the book to give you a taste of what to expect:

Chapter 10: Preparing for the Unexpected

At 2:49 a.m. Central Standard Time, a red alarm illuminated the giant front wall display in Mission Control in Houston. The alert read: TOXIC ATMOSPHERE Node 2 LTL IFHX NH3 Leak Detected.

The meaning was clear. Ammonia was apparently leaking into the Interface Heat Exchanger (IFHX) of the Low Temperature cooling Loop (LTL) in the Node 2 module.

“Flight, ETHOS, I expect the crew to be pressing in emergency response while I confirm,” said the flight controller from Environmental and Thermal Operating Systems (ETHOS). In other words, the crew needed to don oxygen masks to protect themselves from ammonia while ETHOS looked more closely at these data.

This was not a drill. When the red alarm appeared, the flight director turned her full attention to ETHOS. The words—unwelcome at any time from ETHOS—were especially jarring at an hour when the crew and the ground were humming along on a busy day of running experiments. Of the many failures for which the flight control team prepares, especially in simulations, this failure presents one of the most life-threatening situations, and one the team never wants to encounter on the actual vehicle.

On January 14, 2015, this scenario happened on the International Space Station (ISS). Data on the ETHOS console indicated toxic ammonia could be bleeding in from the external loops, through the waterbased IFHX, and into the cabin (see Chapter 11). Software on the ISS immediately turned off the fans and closed the vents between all modules to prevent the spread of ammonia. At the sound of the alarm, crew members immediately began their memorized response of getting to the Russian Segment (considered a safe haven, since that segment does not have ammonia systems) and closed the hatch that connected to the United States On-orbit Segment (USOS). They took readings with a sensitive sensor to determine the level of ammonia in the cabin. The flight control team—especially the flight director, ETHOS, and the capsule communicator (CAPCOM [a holdover term from the early days of the space program])—waited anxiously for the results while they looked for clues in the data to see how much, if any, ammonia was entering the cabin. Already, the flight director anticipated multiple paths that the crew and ground would take, depending on the information received.

No ammonia was detected in the cabin of the Russian Segment. At the same time, flight control team members looked at multiple indications in their data and did not see the expected confirming cues of a real leak. In fact, it was starting to look as if an unusual computer problem was providing incorrect readings, resulting in a false alarm. After looking carefully at the various indications and starting up an internal thermal loop pump, the team verified that no ammonia had leaked into the space station. The crew was not in danger. After 9 hours, the flight control team allowed the crew back inside the USOS. However, during the “false ammonia event,” as it came to be called, the team’s vigilance, discipline, and confidence came through. No panicking. Only measured responses to quickly exchange information and instructions.

Hearts were pumping rapidly, yet onlookers would have noticed little difference from any other day.

A key to the success of the ISS Program is that it is operated by thoroughly trained, well-prepared, competent flight controllers. The above example is just one of many where the team is unexpectedly thrust into a dangerous situation that can put the crew at risk or jeopardize the success of the mission. Both the flight controllers and the crews, often together, take part in simulations. Intense scenarios are rehearsed over and over again so that when a real failure occurs, the appropriate reaction has become second nature.

After these types of simulations, team members might figure out a better way to do something, and then tuck that additional knowledge into their “back pocket” in the event of a future failure. Perhaps the most famous example of this occurred following a simulation in the Apollo Program. After the instructor team disabled the main spacecraft, the flight controllers began thinking about using the lunar module as a lifeboat. When the Apollo 13 spacecraft was damaged significantly by an exploding oxygen tank, the flight control team already had some rough ideas as to what they might do. Since the scenario was not considered likely owing to all the safety precautions, the team had not developed detailed procedures. However, the ideas were there.

Keep reading at https://go.usa.gov/xQbvH.

Dragon Bolted to Station’s Harmony Module

April 4, 2018: International Space Station Configuration
Four spaceships are docked at the space station including the SpaceX Dragon space freighter, the Progress 69 resupply ship and the Soyuz MS-07 and MS-08 crew ships.

Two days after its launch from Florida, the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was installed on the Harmony module of the International Space Station at 9:00 a.m. EDT.

The 14th contracted commercial resupply mission from SpaceX (CRS-14) delivered about 5,800 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory.

Among the research arriving to the U.S. National Laboratory is a Metabolic Tracking investigation to evaluate the use of a new method to test, in microgravity, the metabolic impacts of pharmaceutical drugs. This could lead to more effective, less expensive medicines on Earth. The Multi-use Variable-g Platform (MVP) will serve as a new test bed aboard the space station, able to host 12 separate experiment modules with samples such as plants, cells, protein crystals and fruit flies. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the U.S. National Laboratory, is sponsoring the investigation and the MVP.

Dragon will remain attached to the space station until May, when it will return to Earth with more than 3,500 pounds of research, hardware and crew supplies.

Keep up to date with the latest news from the crew living in space by following https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/, @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, and the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Astronauts Capture Dragon Resupply Ship

SpaceX Dragon Capture
The SpaceX Dragon was grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm today as the space station orbited above the continent of Africa. Credit: NASA TV

While the International Space Station was traveling more than 250 miles over the southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Norishige Kanai and NASA astronaut Scott Tingle captured the Dragon spacecraft at 6:40 a.m. EDT using the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Ground controllers will now send commands to begin the robotic installation of the spacecraft on the station’s Harmony module. NASA Television coverage of installation will begin at 8:30 a.m. Watch online at www.nasa.gov/live.

The Dragon lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Monday, April 2 with more than 5,800 pounds of research investigations and equipment, cargo and supplies to support dozens of the more than 250 investigations aboard the space station during Expeditions 55 and 56.

Among the research arriving on Dragon is a new facility to test materials, coatings and components, or other large experiments, in the harsh environment of space. Designed by Alpha Space and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the Materials ISS Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE-FF) provides a platform for testing how materials react to exposure to ultraviolet radiation, atomic oxygen, ionizing radiation, ultrahigh vacuum, charged particles, thermal cycles, electromagnetic radiation, and micro-meteoroids in the low-Earth orbit environment.

The Canadian Space Agency’s study Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red or White (MARROW) will look at the effects of microgravity on bone marrow and the blood cells it produces – an effect likened to that of long-term bed rest on Earth. The extent of this effect, and bone marrow’s ability to recover when back on Earth, are of interest to space researchers and healthcare providers alike.

Dragon also is carrying an Earth observatory that will study severe thunderstorms and their role in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate, as well as upgrade equipment for the station’s carbon dioxide removal system, external high-definition camera components, and a new printer for the station’s crew.

Keep up to date with the latest news from the crew living in space by following https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/, @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, and the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Expedition Crew Waits for Dragon and Studies Life Science

NASA astronaut and Expedition 55 Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold
NASA astronaut and Expedition 55 Flight Engineer Ricky Arnold rests inside the seven-windowed cupola as the International Space Station orbits above the south Atlantic Ocean.

The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft stands atop its launch pad counting down to a 4:30 p.m. EDT liftoff today to the International Space Station. The Expedition 55 crew is preparing for its arrival on Wednesday while continuing a variety of advanced space research aboard the orbital lab today.

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is hosting the 14th launch of a SpaceX commercial cargo mission to the space station. Astronauts Norishige Kanai and Scott Tingle are practicing the maneuvers and procedures necessary to capture Dragon with the Canadarm2 when it arrives at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning. Their fellow flight engineers Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold joined them later in the afternoon to review the cargo they’ll transfer back and forth after they open the hatches to Dragon.

Feustel spent the better part of his day testing algorithms on a pair of tiny internal satellites that could be used to detect spacecraft positions and velocities. Arnold strapped himself into an exercise cycle for an exertion in space study then collected his blood samples for stowage and later analysis.

Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov worked on a multitude of Russian maintenance tasks checking communications and life support gear. Shkaplerov also joined cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev for another exercise study, this time on the Russian side of the lab, exploring its effectiveness during long term space missions.

Expedition 55 Focuses on Spacewalk and Dragon Delivery

Spacewalker Drew Feustel
NASA astronaut Andrew Feustel is pictured during a spacewalk in May of 2011 at the International Space Station. Feustel was a mission specialist for STS-134 who last visited the station aboard space shuttle Endeavour.

The Expedition 55 crew is ramping up for Thursday’s spacewalk and training for next week’s arrival of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.

Just four days after moving into their new home NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel are getting their suits and gear ready for a spacewalk on Thursday. The duo filled spacesuit tanks and cooling garments with water and reviewed checklists and warning systems today.

They will work outside for about 6.5 hours to install communications antennas on the Tranquility module. The pair will also replace a camera assembly on the Port 1 truss structure. Arnold and Feustel are expected to set their spacesuits to battery power at 8:10 a.m. signifying the official start of Thursday’s spacewalk. NASA TV will begin its live coverage of the spacewalk at 6:30 a.m. ET.

Meanwhile, Flight Engineers Norishige Kanai and Scott Tingle continue training for next week’s capture of the Dragon cargo craft with the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Kanai will be at the robotics controls inside the cupola as Tingle monitors Dragon’s approach and rendezvous.

Dragon is set to launch Monday at 4:30 p.m. and arrive Wednesday just ten meters away from the station where Kanai will robotically capture it at 7 a.m. The commercial cargo craft will deliver over 5,800 pounds of crew supplies, science gear, spacewalking equipment and other station hardware. NASA TV will broadcast both events live.

The Progress 68 (68P) cargo craft will undock from the Pirs docking compartment Wednesday at 9:50 a.m. loaded with trash and old gear. It will reenter Earth’s atmosphere April 25 for a fiery demise over the Pacific Ocean. The 68P has been attached to the station since Oct. 16.

New Station Astronauts March into Spacewalk Preparations

NASA Astronaut Scott Tingle
NASA astronaut Scott Tingle is inside the International Space Station’s window to the world, the seven-windowed cupola, where astronauts operate the Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture visiting vehicles such as the SpaceX Dragon, the Orbital ATK Cygnus and Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle.

Three new Expedition 55 crew members are beginning their first full workweek aboard the International Space Station. They and the rest of the crew are getting ready for a spacewalk on Thursday and next week’s arrival of the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft.

NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel are preparing for a spacewalk just six days after arriving at their new home in space. The duo reviewed their spacewalk procedures today with fellow astronauts Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai. The veteran spacewalkers will install communications antennas and replace a camera assembly during the excursion set to begin Thursday at 8:10 a.m. EDT. NASA TV broadcast the spacewalk activities live beginning at 7 a.m.

Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov has been packing a Russian resupply ship with trash and old gear readying it for its departure on Wednesday. The Progress 68 (68P) cargo craft will undock from the Pirs docking compartment Wednesday at 9:50 a.m. It will reenter Earth’s atmosphere April 25 for a fiery demise over the Pacific Ocean. The 68P has been attached to the station since Oct. 16.

The next cargo craft due to resupply the station is the SpaceX Dragon. After its launch April 2 at 4:30 p.m. Dragon will take a two-day flight to the station. The commercial cargo craft will be robotically captured and installed next Wednesday at 6 a.m. to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

Kanai and Tingle will be at the robotics controls inside the cupola when they capture Dragon with the Canadarm2 robotic arm. The duo practiced the Dragon rendezvous and capture procedures today. The crew has also been configuring the orbital lab for the new science experiments Dragon is delivering next week.

Astronauts Open BEAM and Prepare for Crew Departure

Expedition 53-54 Crew Members
Expedition 53-54 crew members (from left) Joe Acaba, Alexander Misurkin and Mark Vande Hei pose for a portrait inside the Japanese Kibo Laboratory module.

Three Expedition 54 crew members continued preparing for their return to Earth next week. A pair of astronauts also opened up BEAM today to stow a robotic hand and to check for contaminants.

Commander Alexander Misurkin joined his Soyuz MS-06 crewmates Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei and reviewed their procedures for next week’s descent into Earth’s atmosphere. The trio also familiarized themselves with the sensations they will experience flying through the atmosphere and feeling gravity for the first time after 168 days in space.

Misurkin will hand over command of the International Space Station to cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov on Monday at 2:40 p.m. EST. Misurkin, Vande Hei and Acaba will then close the hatch to their Soyuz spacecraft Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. and undock from the Poisk module 6:08 p.m. The trio will then parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 9:32 p.m. NASA TV will cover all the landing activities live.

Flight Engineers Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai will stay behind on the station with Shkaplerov as commander officially becoming the Expedition 55 crew when their crew mates undock next week. They will be joined March 23 by new Expedition 55-56 crew members Oleg Artemyev, Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel. The trio will launch March 21 and were in Red Square in Moscow today for traditional ceremonial activities.

Today, Tingle and Kanai opened up the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) and stowed a degraded robotic hand, or Latching End Effector (LEE), that was attached to the Canadarm2. The LEE was returned inside the station after last week’s robotics maintenance spacewalk. The duo also sampled BEAM’s air and surfaces for microbes.

Spacewalkers Wrap Up Robotic Hand Transfers

Spacewalkers Mark Vande Hei and Norishige Kanai
Spacewalkers Mark Vande Hei (foreground) and Norishige Kanai transfer a spare robotic hand to a long-term stowage area on the International Space Station.

Expedition 54 Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have completed a spacewalk lasting 5 hours and 57 minutes.

The two astronauts concluded their spacewalk at 12:57 p.m. EST with the repressurization of the Quest airlock.

The spacewalkers moved two Latching End Effector (LEE), or hands, for the Canadian-built robotic arm, Canadarm2. They moved one to a long-term storage location for future use as a spare part and brought the other inside the space station to be returned to Earth. It will be refurbished and later relaunched to the orbiting laboratory as a spare.

Running well ahead of the timeline, the two spacewalkers also conducted a number of get ahead tasks, including the lubrication of the inside of the LEE installed on the International Space Station’s robotic arm during the Jan. 23 spacewalk. They also positioned an interface tool for the Canadian Space Agency’s robotic handyman Dextre, installed a grounding strap on a component of the LEE positioned on one end of the robotic arm, and adjusted a strut on a component on one of the station’s spare parts platforms. That component is a flex hose rotary coupler that transfers liquid ammonia across a connecting point on the station’s backbone to provide cooling for its systems.

It was the 208th spacewalk in support of International Space Station assembly and maintenance, the fourth in Vande Hei’s career, and the first for Kanai, who became the fourth Japanese astronaut to walk in space.

Learn more about station activities by following @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

 

Astronauts Step Outside Beginning Third Spacewalk of Year

Astronauts in Quest Airlock
Astronaut Joe Acaba (center) assists spacewalkers Norishige Kanai (right) and Mark Vande Hei (left) inside the Quest airlock Friday morning.

Expedition 54 Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency switched their spacesuits to battery power at 7 a.m. EST, signifying the official start of today’s planned six-and-a-half-hour spacewalk outside the International Space Station.

Watch the spacewalk live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Vande Hei is wearing the suit bearing the red stripes, and Kanai’s suit has no stripes. Views from a camera on Vande Hei’s helmet are designated with the number 18, and Kanai’s is labeled with the number 17. Vande Hei is designated extravehicular crew member 1 (EV1) for this spacewalk, the fourth of his career. Kanai, embarking on his first spacewalk, is extravehicular crew member 2 (EV2). Kanai is only the fourth Japanese astronaut in history to conduct a spacewalk.

The first task for the two spacewalkers is to move a Latching End Effector (LEE), or hand, for the Canadian-built robotic arm, Canadarm2, from a payload attachment on the station’s Mobile Base System rail car to the Quest airlock. This LEE was replaced during an Expedition 53 spacewalk in October 2017 and will be returned to Earth to be refurbished and relaunched to the orbiting laboratory as a spare.

Once they have completed that activity, they will move an aging, but functional, LEE that was detached from the arm during a Jan. 23 spacewalk and move it from its temporary storage outside the airlock to a long-term storage location on the Mobile Base System, which is used to move the arm and astronauts along the station’s truss structure.

Station Prepping for Spacewalk After New Cargo Ship Arrives

Spacewalker Mark Vande Hei
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is pictured during a spacewalk that took place Jan. 23, 2018, to begin maintenance work on the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

The Expedition 54 crew is getting ready for a spacewalk Friday morning and beginning the work to unload a newly-arrived cargo delivery.

Astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Norishige Kanai are completing their spacewalk reviews and readying their spacesuits and tools ahead of Friday morning’s excursion. The duo is scheduled to turn their spacesuits batteries on to internal power at 7:10 a.m. EST signifying the start of a planned six and a half hour spacewalk.

The spacewalkers will complete the transfer of a pair of older robotic hands, or Latching End Effectors (LEEs), that were once attached to the Canadarm2 robotic arm. One LEE will be transferred inside the Quest airlock while the other will be attached to the mobile base system. NASA TV will start its live coverage of the spacewalk activities beginning at 5:30 a.m.

Cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov opened the hatch to a new Progress cargo craft that arrived today at 5:38 a.m. The duo will start the work to offload a little over three tons of food, fuel and supplies from the resupply ship that will stay docked to the Zvezda service module until March.