NASA suspects bad valve for space station trouble (Update)

Dec 12, 2013 by Marcia Dunn
In this frame grab from video provided by NASA, two Russian flight engineers perform maintenance on the International Space Station, Monday, June 24, 2013. NASA said Dec. 11, 2013, it is looking into a problem with a malfunctioning cooling pump on the International Space Station, but there is no immediate danger to the six crewmen on board. Agency spokesman Kelly Humphries says the problem may eventually be serious, but is not an emergency at the moment. (AP Photo/NASA)

The astronauts aboard the International Space Station dimmed the lights, turned off unnecessary equipment and put off science work Thursday as NASA scrambled to figure out what's wrong with a key cooling unit.

One of two identical cooling loops shut down Wednesday when the line got too cold because of a faulty valve. The system uses ammonia to dissipate heat from on-board equipment.

Mission Control ordered the six-man crew to turn off some science experiments and other non-critical equipment; the powerdown continued Thursday.

NASA officials stressed that the astronauts remained safe and comfortable.

The suspect valve is inside an external pump that was replaced by spacewalking astronauts three years ago. Flight controllers are looking at ways to fix the valve. A software repair would be the easiest option, a spacewalk the most complicated. In fact, three spacewalks were needed back in 2010 for the pump replacement.

The valve can't be reached so the entire pump would have to be replaced with one of the spares at the space station.

Kenny Todd, a space station manager, said the orbiting outpost is left "somewhat vulnerable" with only one good cooling line. There's always the possibility of additional failures, he noted, which is why Mission Control wants the problem fixed soon.

Todd said it's possible that next week's launch of a commercial cargo ship, from Wallops Island, Virginia, may need to be delayed. Liftoff of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Antares rocket, with a Cygnus capsule full of supplies and experiments, is scheduled for Wednesday.

Space station managers will reconvene Monday to decide whether to delay the delivery mission.

"At this point, for lack of a better term, we're going to kick the can for a little bit and go let the team work a little bit more," Todd said.

U.S. spacewalks have been on hold since July, when an Italian astronaut almost drowned because of a water leak in his helmet. The problem was traced to the cooling system for his suit, but NASA wants the entire outfit returned to Earth before closing the matter. That won't happen until a SpaceX Dragon capsule is launched in February; it's the only cargo ship capable of returning items to Earth.

"We're a lot smarter now" regarding the spacesuit trouble, Todd said. Safety procedures are in place to prevent a recurrence, he added

Two Americans are aboard the orbiting lab, as well as three Russians and a Japanese astronaut.

Explore further: NASA: Cooling pump on space station shuts down

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA: Cooling pump on space station shuts down

Dec 12, 2013

NASA said Wednesday it was looking into a problem with a malfunctioning cooling pump on the International Space Station, but there was no immediate danger to the two American astronauts, three Russian cosmonauts, ...

Astronauts remove troublesome cargo container

Apr 15, 2010

(AP) -- After struggling for hours with a balky latching system, shuttle Discovery's astronauts successfully removed a cargo carrier from the International Space Station on Thursday.

Recommended for you

SpaceX launches supplies to space station (Update)

9 hours ago

The SpaceX company returned to orbit Friday, launching fresh supplies to the International Space Station after more than a month's delay and setting the stage for urgent spacewalking repairs.

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

9 hours ago

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

11 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

12 hours ago

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

Ceres and Vesta Converge in Virgo

15 hours ago

Don't let them pass you by. Right now and continuing through July, the biggest and brightest asteroids will be running on nearly parallel tracks in the constellation Virgo and so close together they'll easily ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...