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Astronauts Fix Phantom Space Station Ammonia Leak

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the didn't-need-to-eject-the-warp-core dept.

ISS 54

astroengine writes "During an unscheduled spacewalk on the space station's exterior on Saturday morning, NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn and Chris Cassidy carried out the mother of all plumbing jobs: They detached a suspect ammonia pump, replaced it with a spare and watched for any further ammonia leakage. The emergency spacewalk was carried out in response to a troubling ammonia coolant leak that was discovered on Thursday. The coolant is used to maintain the temperature of the vast solar arrays the space station uses to generate electricity for its systems. 'It will take some diagnostics, still, over the course of the next several days by the thermal systems specialists to fully determine that we have solved the problem of the ammonia leak," said NASA commentator Rob Navias during the live NASA TV spacewalk broadcast. 'But so far, so "good."'"

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Dogshit taco! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43696999)

That's all I needed to say. :p

So THAT'S Tacos first name? (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697157)

That's all I wanted to know. :)

i have a solution to save the astronauts (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697015)

If they run out of ammonia, they could pee in the air conditioner. :-P~

News for nerds (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697021)

stuff I saw on reddit two days ago

Re:News for nerds (5, Insightful)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#43697123)

Oh, really? You read, two days ago, about how they fixed the ammonia leak this morning? You're a freakin' genius, you idiot.

Re:News for nerds (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43699115)


Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (3, Insightful)

cachimaster (127194) | about a year ago | (#43697023)

Meet him once, he's awesome, very humble and funny in person. There is a documentary about him even before he became an astronaut. He certainly have the right stuff.

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (0, Offtopic)

loufoque (1400831) | about a year ago | (#43697253)

Too bad he couldn't teach you about grammar ;)

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (3, Funny)

cachimaster (127194) | about a year ago | (#43697519)

He is great but he doesn't make miracles ;)

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (1)

tyrione (134248) | about a year ago | (#43697379)


Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43698107)

Why is he a hero? Did he save an old lady from being crushed to death by an out of control semi? Did he save a baby from a fire? Did he perform an emergency tracheotomy with a ballpoint pen that allowed someone to not asphyxiate? Did he donate one of his kidneys to someone that would die without a transplant? Did he find the cure for cancer, AIDS, ALS, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's ?

While he may be very competent at what he does, that hardly makes him 'a hero', sorry. We should really quit this deification, it's very unbecoming.

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (3, Funny)

demachina (71715) | about a year ago | (#43698941)

There has been massive hero inflation in recent years. Heroes have been devalued to the point you need a train load of heroes to save a little old lady from an out of control semi.

Not sure if the devaluation was due to 24/7 news networks, unscrupulous policians or social networks. Probably some of each.

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43700639)

With republicans having called GWB a hero, when he was a service and war dodger and a president that put us into multiple wars/destroyed economy, etc, I think that it is obvious where the problem of hero definition coming from.

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (1)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#43704841)

There has been inflation of many erstwhile useful terms - diva, icon, mega this and that, ditto mini, micro, and nano. Hero is I think one of the worse offenders. Its overuse removes accuracy, utility, relevance, and respect.

Another usage that grinds my teeth is the adding of an "s" to -craft, as in aircraft, spacecraft, watercraft. While it may be the usual evolution of language in action it still hits me sideways.

And yes, the writing on Discovery, mentioned below, has gone downhill; writing in most pubs and sites I visit has also generally gone downhill. The 'majors' of press and magazines still do pretty well; the rest, not so much.

Reporters, "journalists", whathaveyou, are getting lazy. Worse, imprecise, and not just sloppy; they don't seem to care. (Seems to me it's even worse if they don't _know_ the difference.) They don't seem to trouble themselves with antecedents, tense, other basic grammar stuff - agreement of subject and verb, confusion or inattention about adjective and adverb. People are getting paid for writing that would not have made it past my sixth-grade teacher. They throw some shit on the page, run it by some idiot editor, and out on the wire it goes.

Apart from ignorance and laziness, I suppose it has to do with the general decline in reading and its comprehension. The latter shows up even here. The general level of knowledge about the world in which we live is staggeringly low. It's only going to get worse, as the new crop of children raised by television and thumb games begins to take the reins of society.

This is not the usual 'get off my lawn' what's-the-world-coming-to that has happened every generation. Maybe its just me, but I consider that non-readers simply haven't the tools needed to do well at much of anything in other than some rather narrow technical areas. We're seeing a preview now, of those born in the '70s, the first true television generation, at its prime. Look, see how well they're doing.

In the seeking of moar money just to pay the bills*, the rise of the two-earner household, my generation, sucked in and trapped by the seductive spoils of success handed down, screwed the pooch. Instead of tightening the belt, foregoing some toys, pulling the plug and kicking the rugrats outside, requiring a weekly book report, we bought a second TV. Yay.

*To be fair, the rise of massive shifts in wealth and that wealth being sequestered by its recipients rather than being plowed back into the general economy, combined with the emasculation of the middle- and working-class, and the rise of robotics without the necessary changes in education and a sweeping structural revolution in how we build an economy, rather did a number on us all. I know no other time in history of something like this.

Within a generation or two we lost easily 30% of our jobs to automation of various kinds and the trend continues. Having the remainder of much of that done overseas is but time-shifting until those societies reach post-industrial; it may be stop-gap good for a corporation but does no good to the people without replacement work. Expecting a formerly competent assembly-line worker to magically transform himself into a computer programming or support tech via some voc-ed classes is the height of arrogant stupidity.

The wealthy have little need to attend reality; they simply buy insulation for themselves. The rest of us will continue into an ever-larger shit-storm of debt and need and scraping by. We are the pool of organic labor units, to be used for scut work and soldiery, and, for some, middling tech jobs or science work. For a very lucky few, a way out for a good idea capitalized by a vc. (Eventually, tho, your wonderful idea will simply be taken, by law or by crook.)

There are workable solutions but none will take them; the powers-that-be have no compelling reason to do so, even as their system collapses around them, since they are essentially blinded by their sense of entitlement. (For clarity, TPTB are not the wealthy; they work in roundabout fashion for the interests of the wealthy.)

Shit. This started as a small grammar-related post.

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43705655)

The only workable solution to that I've thought of is off-planet colonization. We're a while away from that yet, but hopefully we can get there before we exhaust Earth's natural resources.

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (1)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#43706381)

It's not the resources per se I'm concerned about - not that they're a non-issue, anything but. However, the three most critical areas in resource are energy (the generation thereof and what is involved in that), food (we've plenty to feed everyone; hunger is a function of transport, corruption, and political will - to simply decide that no one goes to bed hungry. It's quite doable, but few see the real need to do so.), and information. The latter encompasses censorship, unrealistic copyright and paywall thus access to books, but most importantly real education, by which I mean the inculcation and training of curious, analytical thinking from pre-school throughout one's life.

I'm thinking that energy production is key. Most current methods are exceedingly impolite to the planet and its lifeforms. So-called renewable sources often entail means and materials that themselves are not so 'green'.

Short term, do what can readily be done viz. solar, geothermal (OTEC, for instance), wind, wave, and tide. At the same time, rapidly get up and running on production basis several of the modular or sealed disposable fission plants best suited to the task, and get seriously onto the thorium cycle - which would also take care of the bulk of all the most dangerous of wastes and weaponizable stuff.

While that's in gear, immediately get truly committed to ASAP solar power satellites. Enormous up-front costs? Yes. Some non-trivial environmental costs? Also yes. High fixed operating costs? Unknown in all particulars, but probably not too bad at all. Fantastic payback? Damn betcha. Energy independence - for the whole planet? Yes, indeedy. (Remember the predictions in the '50s of nuclear energy as being too cheap to meter? Yes, well, this is the closest we're going to get to it, if done well.)

Finally, pull the thumb out and throw a hundred billion at fusion. Stand back, forget about it, get on with other things. Don't forget to act surprised when it works. If it doesn't? Hell bells, how much per year did Iraq cost just the US? What's the cost of the current not-really-operational fleet of F-35s? How much money got sucked out of the economy by the asshole bankers and their friends and owners? How much is spent on professional sports just in the US? How much is spent on pizza? Get some perspective, folks.

(While we're at it, with an order of magnitude and more of energy available, many things become possible; so also work on getting carbon dioxide down to more reasonable level, and think on getting rid of the waste heat from the use of current and future energy. It's gotta go somewhere.)

Perspective leads back, of course, to books. The trail for some may be arduous; for people who read it's a no-brainer. Take in a little Bookminster Fuller while you're at it. Stretch. Wide reading more readily allows wider seeing and thinking; the sports page, law books, and tech manuals, not so much.

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (4, Informative)

baegucb (18706) | about a year ago | (#43700485)

Two Bronze stars as a Navy SEAL might qualify him. []

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | about a year ago | (#43713475)

I have more respect for him as a SEAL than the two Bronze Stars, those aren't all that hard to earn after all. []

Cassidy is an honor graduate of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S) Class 192. He was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" device and the Presidential Unit Citation for leading a 9-day operation at the Zhawar Kili cave complex – a national priority objective directly on the Afghan/Pakistan border during Operation Enduring Freedom. Cassidy was a guest speaker at the USNA Combat Leadership Seminar (2003 & 2004). He was awarded a second Bronze Star for combat leadership service in 2004 during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.[1]
Chris Cassidy is also the 500th person in space. He achieved this by being the designated crew member by the rest of his crew mates, during the STS-127 mission.[7] He is also the second SEAL to fly in space following William Shepherd, a veteran of four prior missions.

I suppose it depends on what that service was, but still, a pretty exemplary person.

Re:Chris Cassidy is a fucking hero (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about a year ago | (#43701013)

Well, AC, you done it. I was going to use up my mod points, but you made me think. Dang it!

I mostly agree with you. People doing their jobs shouldn't be touted as heroes. It's just stupid.

BUT - anyone who helps in even small ways to get us, humanity, into space, are all greater or lesser heroes to me. If you want to become my greatest all time hero, all you need to do is make a very fast, very comfortable, efficient, cheap spaceship that can take me anywhere I might wish to go in the solar system within a week. You would become the God of Heroes, in my books. Incorporate the ability to visit neighboring stars with only a year or two of travel involved, and you could be the God of Hero Gods.

Just get us off this one, single, lonely rock that we inhabit. That's all I ask. Lots of people scoff at the idea, but it would only take one huge rock smashing into our rock to wipe us all out.

Imagine a day (4, Insightful)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#43697033)

Imagine a day when a ship springing a leak would have been international news, commented upon by the wise and witty. Now imagine a day when such an event was too commonplace for even the crew to comment upon it around the watercooler.

That day will come.

Re:Imagine a day (2)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year ago | (#43698749)

Simmons, you can't write it up in the incident report as an "ammonia leak" when you miss the evacuation pipe. If you can't hold it in use the gelatin, man. We've all got to breathe this air dammit. You just bought a replacement scrubber cartridge.

Re:Imagine a day (1)

noobermin (1950642) | about a year ago | (#43699421)

I really hope so, bro. Given the short-sightedness of some on this planet, it seems like it will be a while until that "day" will actually come.

Phantom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697075)

Phantom implies it never existed..?

Re:Phantom? (4, Insightful)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about a year ago | (#43701045)

Phantom implies that it's not been identified.

In maintenance, we have problems all the time. I've referred to not-yet-identified or intermittent problems as "phantom" problems in the past. One such problem was finally identified just yesterday. The machine did some simply crazy shit from time to time, suggesting some kind of electrical supply problem. We've crawled all over that machine, testing boards and cards, probing all the electrical supplies, everything. Finally - the 460 volt transformer crapped out. I can't explain how or why the transformer was doing weird shit intermittently, but we're all sure that replacing that transformer will cure all the phantom problems we've been having.

We should know for certain by the end of this coming week . . .

Phantom? (3, Insightful)

sylvandb (308927) | about a year ago | (#43697091)

We have a phantom space station now?

Or was it a space station phantom leak?

I wonder where/why Discovery came up with "phantom" ? Really poor editing, Discovery!

Re:Phantom? (1)

speederaser (473477) | about a year ago | (#43697175)

The Discovery writer got confused and thought the replacement pump check for leaks post-swap was referring to the original leaking pump pre-swap. No doubt they'll fix it any second now....

Re:Phantom? (1)

Megahard (1053072) | about a year ago | (#43697229)

It was a phantom menace. That's why they had to fix it right away.

Re:Phantom? (4, Funny)

itsdapead (734413) | about a year ago | (#43697267)

Or was it a space station phantom leak?

Pro-tip for astronauts: If the ISS computer suggests another spacewalk to put back the original part so they can wait to see if it fails... watch your back!.

Re:Phantom? (2)

The Mighty Buzzard (878441) | about a year ago | (#43697319)

Also, ask for a raise. Plumbers on Earth make way more than you for way less risk.

Re:Phantom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697967)

Plumbers on Earth make way more than you for way less risk.

Oh Christ, can you imagine the call out fee?!

Re:Phantom? (2)

Mystakaphoros (2664209) | about a year ago | (#43699749)

On the other hand, the sagging pants would lead to explosive decompression. So it's a toss-up.

Re:Phantom? (1)

TWX (665546) | about a year ago | (#43698247)

And make sure that you keep your helmet handy...

Re:Phantom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697307)

Yes it's the new phantom space station "Ammonia". Its existence got leaked, but now everyone believes the ISS is meant and so it's fixed. ;)

Joke aside: This wouldn't be a problem if you had compound words like in Germany. E.g.:

> Astronauts Fix SpaceStation-PhantomAmmoniaLeak.

We should have better grouping features though, because that would still sound weird in German. How about maybe...

> astronauts.fix(spaceStation.leak[Ammonia && Phantom]) ;)

Re:Phantom? (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about a year ago | (#43703403)

Astronauts fix phantom leak of ammonia from cooling system of space station's photovoltaic array.

Word smithing can be difficult, and I agree with you that a standard explicit system of hierarchical phrasing would be a valuable addition to the language.

Wetware Controller advantages (3, Interesting)

ThePeices (635180) | about a year ago | (#43697173)

This is why having humans onboard beats robotics. An event like this on an unmanned craft could be crippling. With humans onboard, it was quickly found and fixed.

Though it is only a question of time before robotics will be dexterous and smart enough to go out and replace a broken module like what just happened. In the meantime, Humans +1 | Robots +0.

Re:Wetware Controller advantages (4, Insightful)

pehrs (690959) | about a year ago | (#43697377)

If you remove the humans you can also remove the large, heavy and complex life support systems they need. The life support systems are a major consumer of power on the ISS, and a reason they have so many solar panels that can fail, as well as a constant source of small and large breakdowns in itself.

In the end it is a matter of what you want to do with the spacecraft. Unmanned spacecraft are cheap and reliable. Manned craft are a little more flexible, but expensive and unreliable. Even with the ability to repair stuff humans have they are hampered by the lack of tools and spare parts in space, so it's very unlikely that manned spacecraft will ever be as reliable as the simple robotic probes.

Re:Wetware Controller advantages (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43698605)

If you remove the humans you can also remove the large, heavy and complex life support systems they need.

The human robot is the most intricate and complex robot we have.

    1. It can fix other robots
    2. It can diagnose failures
    3. It can adapt to unknown situations
    4. It can describe what it sees using descriptive words
    5. It can work cooperatively
    6. There is no shortages of humans or highly skilled volunteers ready to go to space.

The system that broke had nothing to do with life support. If it broke on robotic spacecraft, that spacecraft would have markedly reduces power generation capability and there would be no way to fix it.

Take the Hubble Space Telescope. It is about to die because of lack of maintenance. Gyroscopes are failing, again. Batteries are failing, again. Parts are wearing out. There is no machine that can do basic things like replacing a battery.

Now on ISS, they have one of the most advanced robotic pieces of manipulation equipment. It is called Dextre. []

And even with something like that, it is still faster and more adaptable to have an astronaut out there doing things especially if there is a high likelihood of unknown elements coming to play.

Finally, the purpose of ISS and its life support is not to send robots into space. It is to send *people* into space. And we need to send people into space to learn how that environment affects us. Without this experimentation and drive to move our species from this planet, humans as a race is *extinct*. It is just a matter of when, not if, unless we move away from our nursery.

Re:Wetware Controller advantages (2)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about a year ago | (#43699401)

In the end it is a matter of what you want to do with the spacecraft. Unmanned spacecraft are cheap and reliable. Manned craft are a little more flexible, but expensive and unreliable.

Unmanned spacecraft are cheap and reliable? Not really. We've had plenty of accidents. Keep in mind that up to the year 2000, the US, Soviet Union, and Japan had launched 43 probes to Mars and 13 were successful. That's a 30% success rate. Not all that hot.

In 2012 dollars, we've spent 12.5 billion--with a B--dollars on Mars exploration. And we've learned a lot. Now, we'll say that a manned mission costs 1000x that, or 12.5 trillion--with a T. The interesting question is, would we learn 1000x more about Mars than we've learned in the last 50 years of throwing the occasional probe out there?

Let's be honest--we've sent probes to Mars because we want to do something to figure it out and the American people aren't going to spring for the money for a manned mission. So probes are the next best thing. And they're pretty good. But are they "better" than manned exploration? No.

Re:Wetware Controller advantages (2)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#43704303)

Good info, good question - would we learn 1000x more.

"But are they "better" than manned exploration? No."

And that's the thing - we won't know until humans go there to answer it. I suppose, did we wait long enough, say, fifty to a hundred years, with robotic missions every few years, with increasingly robust packages for sampling and analysis, it might reach a point that sending humans to Mars will require a purpose other than exploration.

  (for the grammar nazis, yeah, too many commas; sorry, I tend to write as I speak.)

Re:Wetware Controller advantages (1)

Nivag064 (904744) | about a year ago | (#43700655)

Simply having a manned station where people have to maintain things under space conditions, and react successfully to unexpected problems - is a necessary learning experience that is required, if we are ever to be successful in space.

If Mankind is to survive and proper in the long term, we have to have a viable population that can thrive off planet.

The ISS also does useful science, which is a bonus.

Re:Wetware Controller advantages (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43706361)

Humans are wet, really, really, annoyingly wet. Every day each human excretes a couple of liters of water vapor. This gets into the structure of the station and condenses. Add to this a whole lot of organic dust from food and skin. Guess what happens next. And all over your delicate and expensive circuit boards too.

Re:Wetware Controller advantages (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697405)

This is why having humans onboard beats robotics.

On the other hand we've dumped robots on Mars, flung them around the Moon and shot them far out into the depths of the solar system for decades without having to worry about food, water, or suicide due to sheer boredom.

The right tool for the right job and all that.

Re:Wetware Controller advantages (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year ago | (#43697769)

This is why having humans onboard beats robotics. An event like this on an unmanned craft could be crippling. With humans onboard, it was quickly found and fixed.

Though it is only a question of time before robotics will be dexterous and smart enough to go out and replace a broken module like what just happened. In the meantime, Humans +1 | Robots +0.

Just ignore the prejudice in those comments, "beats robotics", "unmanned craft", "smart enough". :-(
It's Okay, Robonaut2, I still love you. []

Re:Wetware Controller advantages (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697797)

Many of the ORUs (on-orbit replaceable units) are able to be replaced by the robots on the ISS (SSRMS & SPDM, or if you prefer, Canadarm2 and Dextre). In 2011 they replaced a RPCM (sort of like a circuit breaker box) without the need for an EVA. The PFCS that was replaced today is out of reach of the SSRMS & SPDM. It's way out at the end of the P6 truss and that's too far from the nearest robotic worksite. There had been plans to have additional worksites on P6 and S6, but they were scrapped around 2006. Yes, in this case the only solution was a human EVA, but the score is certainly not 1-0 for the humans.

Re:Wetware Controller advantages (1)

delt0r (999393) | about a year ago | (#43701183)

Of course if there was no fragile meat bags on board, we wouldn't need all these systems that keep breaking down in the first place. And if the few remaining systems did break down, well it won't kill anyone either.

About the Best They Could Ask For (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697223)

Ammonia leaking on the Space Station is not a big problem. Each astronaut aboard is producing the stuff.

Not that a volunteer could just pee into the pipe, they would have to membrane-filter to remove water and salts. But they do that anyway. Then just add the recovered ammonia on the suction side of the pump to the correct balance of pressures, and voilà until the next top-up is needed.

If they were using freon it would be a whole different story: They would have to synchronize the station with a hole in the ozone, drop a hose down through and suck up what they needed molecule by molecule.

What I liked about Mir (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697239)

This reminds me of Mir. I liked Mir on some level because it seems like the first example of a rundown ship. Mold, leaks, fires. It was gritty, dirty and dangerous but they figured out how to make it work. IMHO, Mir was the first example of this particular kind of ship that we had seen in sci-fi for decades.

Of course I'd rather be on a clean, well-run ship; but in the real world there are all levels. Let's hope the ISS has a like-new remodel or a replacement before it gets a little too Mir-like.

Re:What I liked about Mir (1)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | about a year ago | (#43697689)

There were lots of grungy spacecraft in Bruce Stirling's Schismatrix stories, which were published before Mir got off the ground. It's one of those rather obvious details that writers rarely bother to address, or assume will have been taken care of in some manner. For another example, I was just reading a story in an anthology which deals with the aftermath of an alien takeover of Earth; the hostiles take care of humanity simply by removing our ability to read. No jet fighter dogfights or cylinders/tripods needed; over we keel, in short order. I'm thinking your typical aggressive alien species won't want to duke it out with us if at all possible; why not a genetic weapon of that sort, or Heinlein's Rods of God or Disch's 500 foot high weeds?

Re:What I liked about Mir (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about a year ago | (#43703445)

I can't remember the particular author - probably someone like Eric Frank Russell - who made the reasonable assumption that spacemen who slacked on critical housekeeping would tend to end up dead.

Re:What I liked about Mir (1)

ikaruga (2725453) | about a year ago | (#43699807)

Mir was the first example of this particular kind of ship that we had seen in sci-fi for decades

Until I see unwanted Alien contamination I would refrain from saying that.

A simple fix, too... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697269)

The changed the litter box so the cat would start using it again.
Good thing we have the "clumping" technology all figured out...

AE35 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43697309)

Keep an eye on that AE35 unit.. or perhaps its just an HAL 9000 error, although there has never been a error recorded caused by the HAL 9000 unit!

Next unit to fail... (1)

Diddlbiker (1022703) | about a year ago | (#43698549)

I bet they'll have to go out next to replace that defective AE-35 unit.

Re:Next unit to fail... (1)

spitzak (4019) | about a year ago | (#43717277)

The original unit should be put back and allowed to fail...

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