Thursday, November 20, 2008

6p 11/19 Update: Astronaut remorseful about lost tools; water recycling gear tests on tap


Posted: 6:00 PM, 11/19/08

By William Harwood
CBS News Space Analyst

Changes and additions:

   SR-37 (11/18/08): Shuttle heat shield in good shape; officially cleared for entry
   SR-38 (11/19/08): Crew awake; water recycling gear setup on tap
   SR-39 (11/19/08): Stefanyshyn-Piper expresses remorse for lost tool bag; mission managers optimistic about completing spacewalk chores despite lost tools; water recycling system activation on tap


6:00 PM, 11/19/08, Update: Stefanyshyn-Piper expresses remorse for lost tool bag; mission managers optimistic about completing spacewalk chores despite mission tools; water recycling system activation on tap

Astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper told reporters today the loss of a $100,000 tool bag during an otherwise successful spacewalk Tuesday was "disheartening" and that it was difficult to face her crewmates when she returned to the shuttle-space station complex. Fellow spacewalker Stephen Bowen, who said he was responsible for making a final tether check of the bag before the EVA began, said he was equally to blame for the mishap.

"During the spacewalk, during that time it was easy to put it aside because I know that, you know, we still had five hours of spacewalk work to do and the work needed to get done and you can't dwell on a mistake," Stefanyshyn-Piper told The Associated Press in a brief interview today. "It was hardest when I got back in and having to face everybody else. That's when the hardest part of it, you know, knowing that I'd made a mistake.

"But we still have three more spacewalks to go and we still have a lot of work to do," she said. "You have to learn from your mistakes, we're definitely not going to do it again, you're not going to see us lose another bag, we're going to double and triple check everything from here on out."

Stefanyshyn-Piper and Robert "Shane" Kimbrough are scheduled for a second spacewalk Thursday to service the station's robot arm and to continue cleaning and lubricating the lab's damaged right-side solar array rotary mechanism.

Preparing to begin that work Tuesday, Stefanyshyin-Piper carried a tool kit containing two grease guns, wet and dry wipes, a scraper tool and a large trash bag inside a larger soft-sided equipment bag. When she got to the worksite, she discovered one or both grease guns had discharged a considerable amount of grease inside the bag. While struggling to clean up the mess, the smaller tool bag, containing the grease guns and other equipment, floated away.

Asked how much the tool kit cost, Stefanyshyn-Piper said "I probably don't want to know at this point." NASA officials said later the bag and the custom-built tools inside cost roughly $100,000.

Stefanyshyn-Piper and Stephen Bowen completed the first spacewalk sharing the two remaining grease guns, completing all of their objectives. Since then, flight controllers have been studying options for working around the loss of two grease guns during three more spacewalks Thursday, Saturday and next Monday.

Going into the flight, the plan was to use grease-impregnated wipes to dab up loose debris on the rotary joint's 10-foot-wide drive gear. Then, after laying down a bead of grease with a grease gun, the spacewalkers, working on opposite sides of the joint, would use a scraper to chip off debris that had been crushed onto the bearing race by the rollers that hold the big gear in place. Then, after using dry wipes to clean up any remaining debris, additional lubrication would be applied to reduce rolling friction in the mechanism.

During the first spacewalk, the astronauts used up about a quarter of a cartridge in each of the two remaining grease guns. Flight director Ginger Kerrick said today the crew still has six full cartridges of Braycote vacuum grease available, which should be more than enough to complete the servicing.

During Thursday's spacewalk, Stefanyshyn-Piper will use the grease-impregnated wipes to collect and contain debris in the rotary joint while Kimbrough uses a grease gun to lubricated capture snares on the station's robot arm. Then, working together, they'll share the tools again. But this time around, Stefanyshyn-Piper will attempt to use the grease wipes to supply the containment needed for scraped-off debris.

In a round of media interviews today, Stefanyshyn-Piper was repeatedly asked about the lost bag and she clearly was chagrined.

"It was definitely not the high point of the EVA," she said. "It was somewhat disheartening to open up the bag and to realize that there was grease everywhere. Well, not everywhere... but everywhere. It's interesting in space with things like a grease gun, I don't know if 'exploded' is the right word to use but it kind of seeped out, it was just a continuous ooze and unlike something on the ground where you'd find a big blob of grease, or a big pile of grease, it doesn't happen that way in space.

"In space, it just comes out in a small stream and then it, you know, breaks off, a half-an-inch piece, an inch piece, and then it floats off and then there's another piece someplace else. So you get a lot of little pieces of grease everywhere. And it seemed like every time I put my hand in the bag to try to clean one piece, I found more areas that had grease. And in the process of doing that cleaning is when the bag came loose and floated away. And that was very disheartening to see that float away."

For a split second, when she realized the bag was untethered and floating away, she thought about making a grab for it. And then, "I thought no, that would probably just make things worse and the best thing to do would be to just let it go."

Returning to the space station later, she said the "psychological thing" of knowing "we had made a mistake" was difficult. But Bowen, a first-time flier, said "it's just as much my mistake as anyone else's."

"I closed out the bag as a final (inspection) and I didn't go back and triple check everything so I'm just as guilty of this as Heide is," he said. "No matter how much anybody says something, trying to make you feel better, you know, you kind of know you have to move on, you keep moving on trying to figure out how to best accomplish the job."

While spacewalk preparations were underway today, the rest of the combined shuttle-station crew was busy hooking up the station's new water recycling gear and installing new sleep stations. The water processing equipment, designed to convert urine into potable water, is a critical element in NASA's plans to increase station crew size from three to six next year.

Running well ahead of schedule, the astronauts planned to begin initial activation later today and process the first samples of stored urine, collected by the station crew before Endeavour arrived, on Thursday.

"This evening, we will perform the initial checkout of the water processor assembly," Kerrick said. "Then tomorrow on the timeline, we will do some urine processing. There will be some crew actions at the very beginning of the day and then the urine processor will run all day long. Once it's finished with the urine processing, and I think that duration is about eight to nine hours, we have some actions to perform on the water system to vent it and then we can process in the water processor assembly.

"So overall, about two days from when we do the initialization we are about ready to produce that first sample out of the water processor assembly. Right now, we're replanning everything as the crew gets ahead so I can't tell you exactly when that sample, that moment of sampling, is going to occur."

NASA managers hope to get samples from the water recycling racks and a water dispenser before Endeavour departs. Those samples will be analyzed on the ground to help calibrate an analyzer aboard the station. But no one will actually drink any recycled water until next year, after additional samples are brought down following the next shuttle visit in February.


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