Space Station Crew Repairs Main Oxygen Generator

Space Station Crew Repairs Main Oxygen Generator
The crew of the International Space Station's Expedition 14 mission wave to reporters on Earth. From left: Flight engineer Thomas Reiter, commander, Michael Lopez-Alegria and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin.
(Image: © NASA TV.)

Astronautsaboard the InternationalSpace Station (ISS) restored the outpost's balky oxygen generator Tuesdayafter a series of repair efforts by cosmonautMikhail Tyurin.

Tyurin, aflight engineer with the space station's Expedition14 crew, worked with Russian mission controllers to bring the orbitallaboratory's Elektronoxygen generator back online, NASA spokesperson Lynette Madison told SPACE.com.

"Afterrunning without a hitch...the Elektron was deliberately shut off by Russianflight controllers to get additional data on valve and electrical continuitybehavior," Madison said, adding that the device--the primary oxygen generatoraboard the ISS--is slated for reactivation later today.

Located inthe space station's Zvezdaservice module, the Russian-built Elektron device [image]separates water into its component oxygen and hydrogen via electrolysis. The oxygensupports the station's three-astronaut Expedition 14 crew while the hydrogen isdumped overboard.

But thegenerator failedin mid-September just after NASA's STS-115 shuttle astronauts undockedfrom the ISS following their successful constructionmission. Overheating and a leak ofmildly toxic potassium hydroxide used in the Elektron prompted the failure, aswell as a briefemergency for the space station's then-Expedition13 crew.

At no timewere the Expedition 13 astronauts or the current Expedition 14 crew, commandedby veteran spaceflyer MichaelLopez-Alegria with Tyurin and European Space Agency astronaut ThomasReiter, in danger of running out of air, NASA officials said.

The spacestation astronauts relied on oxygen-producing candles and other supplies storedin tanks to maintain their atmosphere.

Tyurinactivated Elektron overnight using laptop, Madison said. The oxygen generatoroperated in backup mode--whichit failed to last year--until it was deliberately turned off to gather moredata, she added.

Thegenerator is a key piece of hardware, especially during periods of increasedactivity aboard the ISS such as joint operations during station crew changesand shuttle missions to complete the orbital laboratory. NASA's next ISS-boundshuttle flight, STS-116aboard Discovery, is slated to launch towards the space station on Dec. 7.

To performthe Elektron repair, Tyurin replaced a series of valves and cables using spareparts that arrived last week aboard the unmanned Russiancargo ship Progress 23. That cargo ship [image]had some initial docking difficulties during its Oct. 26arrival due to an errant navigation antenna that appeared to not haveretracted properly during the orbital rendezvous.

On Monday,NASA officials said that after further study Russian flight controllers concludedthat the antenna in fact did not retract properly, but did not prevent thespacecraft's docking or hatch opening and will likely not impact its stay atthe ISS.

Tyurin andLopez-Alegria arrivedat the ISS on Sept. 20 with U.S.space tourist Anousheh Ansari, who later returnedto Earth with Expedition 13 commander PavelVinogradov and flight engineer JeffreyWilliams. Reiter has served aboard the ISS since July and is scheduled toreturn to Earth in December with NASA's STS-116shuttle crew.

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