Soyuz TMA-9 launched just after midnight on September 18, 2006, while Atlantis was still on its way home. The crew included Expedition Commander Michael Lopez-Algria, Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin and another spaceflight participant, an Iranian native named Anousheh Ansari. Ansari was a last-minute replacement for another paying spaceflight participant named Daisuke Enomoto, who had been grounded due to a medical condition. Ansari would carry out Enomoto’s experiments while on the space station. Because she was Iranian, she had to agree not to wear Iran’s flag or make any political speeches while in flight. In interviews, she talked about seeing an Earth without man-made boundaries and her hope that her flight would bring hope to young Iranians.
On September 19, the Space Station, STS-115 and Soyuz crews were linked via radio so they could chat while still in flight. Williams kidded, “It’s a little crowded in the sky today.” Atlantis made the final preparations for reentry and landed on September 20.
The Soyuz docked with Zvezda on September 20 and the two crews went through the routine of safety briefings and handover duties. Due to continuing problems with the Elektron oxygen generator, it remained off and new spare parts were designated to be delivered on a future Progress cargo vessel. The two crews burned oxygen-generating SFOG candles, using up the old supply. The Atlantis had brought up newly designed SFOG candles to replace them.
Ansari worked on two experiments for the European Space Agency and she and Reiter swapped their couch liners between the two Soyuz spacecraft attached to the station. The official handover took place on September 27 and Ansari returned home with the Expedition 13 crew on September 28.
Expedition 14 began its first solo week on the International Space Station with preparations to move Soyuz TMA-9 and an emergency drill that included safety checks and an emergency egress. Medical experiments included the Test of Reaction and Adaptation Capabilities (TRAC), which tested hand-eye coordination. Tyurin replaced parts on the Elektron and further repairs were delayed until new parts could be shipped up with Progress M-58. One of the Control Moment Gyroscopes, CMG-3, began vibrating and had to be shut down.
To make room for Progress M-58, the crew configured the space station for unoccupied operation and moved Soyuz TMA-9 from Zvezda to Zarya on October 10. Once this was done, they reconfigured the station and settled back into the routine of experiments and maintenance. Later that month, Houston performed five days’ worth of tests on the Thermal Radiator Rotary Joint on the S-1 and P-1 truss segments.
Progress M-58 launched on October 23, 2006, and performed a soft dock on October 26. Telemetry had failed on a KURS antenna and controllers could not confirm that it had retracted as planned. The soft dock would help prevent damage while Russian controllers performed troubleshooting procedures. In an effort to prevent the Progress from becoming misaligned, the station’s attitude control system was turned off. This caused the Solar Array Wings to become misaligned and the crew turned off non-critical systems to conserve power. When controllers confirmed that the antenna had retracted, the docking latches secured the Progress for a hard dock and the attitude control system was reactivated. Further investigate the problem was added to the planned activities for a Stage EVA scheduled for November 22.
Reiter began packing items to return to Earth on STS-116. He would be leaving the space station with the next shuttle mission to be replaced by Sunita Williams. Lopez-Algeria moved Canadarm2 from the exterior of Destiny to the Mobile Transporter on November 1, and then the Mobile Transporter was moved to the P-4 Truss Segment. The robotic arm was left in a position where it could assist the installation of the P-5 Truss Segment during STS-116.
Golfing During An EVA
In a flashback to Apollo 14, Expedition 14 crew member Mikhail Tyurin uses a one-handed shot to hit a golf ball during an EVA. This activity was sponsored by a Canadian golf ball manufacturer called Element 21.(*)
Stage EVA #1
Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin began the first Stage EVA of Expedition 14 on November 22. Wearing Orlan suits, they exited through Pirs an hour late due to difficulties with a pinched cooling hose on Tyurin’s suit. After Tyurin succeeded in repositioning the cooling hose, they were ready to start.
Tyurin’s first task had been sponsored by a golf company. He had a golf ball that massed only three grams, lighter than most standard golf balls so that it wouldn’t harm the space station if the shot went awry. With Lopez-Alegria securing his feet, he whacked the ball with a one-handed shot towards Zvezda’s wake. It was estimated that the golf ball would remain in orbit for about three days.
Moving on, the two spacewalkers inspected the KURS antenna that had failed to retract. Adjustments made by Tyurin that included use of a crowbar and a screwdriver to try to release a latch, along with radioed commands from the Russian controllers, had no effect and the antenna would not budge. The spacewalkers took some pictures and the task was finally abandoned.
For their next task, they relocated a WALS antenna designed to assist with the docking with the European Automated Transfer Vehicle. It had been interfering with a cover for a Zvezda booster engine. They also installed a BTN neutron experiment that would study charged and neutral particles in low Earth orbit and assist with studying activity during solar bursts. They discarded two thermal covers from the BTN and then returned to Pirs after an EVA duration of 5 hours and 38 minutes.
With the first Stage EVA over, life began to return to normal. The crew continued preparations for the arrival of STS-116 and dismantled the Matryoshka human torso experiment designed to study exposure to radiation. They also prepared the KURS avionics packages for return to Earth. On Earth, a scathing report from the US National Research Council criticized NASA for failing to include more experiments directed at developing technology for Project Constellation and human missions to Mars on the International Space Station.
Season’s Greetings from Expedition 14
Expedition 14 Continues
With the Discovery on its way home, Sunita Williams began to settle into the routine of life on the International Space Station. Maintenance and experiments continued with Christmas Day as a day off for the crew. Williams helped Lopez-Alegria install the Oxygen Generation System (OGS) activation kit in Unity. This system was meant to complement the Elektron as part of preparations for six-astronaut Expedition crews. Activation would wait until later in 2007.
Tyurin added fans, vibration isolators and acoustic shields in the Russian modules as part of an ongoing effort to improve soundproofing. The Test of Reaction and Adaptation Capabilities (TRAC) was also installed and used for the first time. This experiment would track astronaut reaction times by having them use a joystick to react to a moving cursor on the screen. They also completed the European Modular Cultivation System, which tested the development of plants in microgravity, and then stowed the plants in the freezer.
In mid-January 2007, Progress M-57 undocked to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere and was replaced by Progress M-59. The new Progress carried a painting of Sergei Korolev, the mysterious “Chief Designer” of the early Soviet space program, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth. The automated spacecraft also carried more than 2500 kilograms of cargo. While the crew unloaded the new items, they also began preparations for the 50th Stage EVA from an ISS airlock and the first in a rapid-fire series of three spacewalks designed to reroute power and cooling systems to their permanent configurations.
Sunita Williams Runs A Marathon
Destined to become known for her orbital athletics, Sunita Williams runs the first full marathon on the International Space Station.
Expedition 14 Stage EVA #2
Michael Lopez-Alegria and Sunita Williams began their EVA at 11:14 on January 31, exiting through the Quest module. They reconfigured two cooling loops for Destiny to their new permanent configuration. Making their way to the Z-1 Truss segment, they began work at an area called the “Rat’s Nest”, a central collection of fluid and power lines. They rerouted a pair of cooling lines from the Destiny lab and hooked them back up to the Z-1 panel. If the permanent system went down, this would allow the cooling lines to be more easily reconfigured to the old system. Lopez-Alegria also attached a cable for the Space Shuttle Power Transfer System (SSPTS) which would allow a docked Space Shuttle to draw power from the International Space Station’s systems. Sunita Williams rerouted some electrical systems.
The EVA astronauts waited for ground controllers to retract the starboard radiator on the P-6 truss segment, and then installed six cable cinches and two winch bars to secure it, and also a radiation shield. They also moved the now-obsolete Early Ammonia Servicer to the P-6 truss and removed one of the two cables. The Early Ammonia Servicer was scheduled to be jettisoned that summer.
The two EVA astronauts returned to the airlock and waited twenty-five minutes before entering the main station to allow any lingering ammonia to dissipate. The EVA ended with a duration of 7 hours and 55 minutes.
Expedition 14 Stage EVA #3
The second of three EVAs in a 9-day span began on February 4 with Sunita Williams and Michael Lopez-Alegria exiting through the Quest module. They proceeded directly to the “Rat’s Nest” at the Z-1 Truss segment and continued their task of rerouting cooling and electrical loops from the temporary to the permanent configuration. Then, controllers on the ground again retracted the radiator unit so the EVA astronauts could install another set of six cable cinches, two winch bars and a shroud. Moving on to the Early Ammonia Servicer, they removed the second cable.
Lopez-Alegria took photographs of the P-6 starboard SAW in preparation for work planned for the STS-117 mission. Meanwhile, Williams carried tools and cables to the Space Shuttle Power Transfer System. They rerouted more cables to their permanent configuration, leaving only three to be done on the final EVA of the series.
The astronauts were a little ahead of schedule, so they handled a get-ahead task and removed a sunshade from a data relay device called the multiplexer-demultiplexer. Returning to the airlock, the EVA astronauts waited to enter the main station to allow any ammonia contamination to dissipate. The EVA ended with a duration of 7 hours and 11 minutes.
Expedition 14 Stage EVA #4
The third in the series of EVAs began on February 8 with Sunita Williams and Michael Lopez-Alegria exiting through the Quest module. Using one of the Crew Equipment Transfer Aid (CETA) carts to move equipment, they made their way to the P-3 Truss segment, where they removed two shrouds from the Rotary Joint Motor Controllers (RJMC). They also removed shrouds on Bays 18 and 20. With the station in its orientation at the time, these shrouds created the risk of trapping excess heat. The two EVA astronauts folded up the shrouds and jettisoned them.
The two astronauts installed an Unpressurized Cargo Carrier Assembly Attachment System (UCCAS) in preparation for the delivery and installation of a cargo carrier on a future shuttle mission. Williams made her way to the end of the P-5 Truss to remove two launch locks in preparation for moving the P-6 Truss to its final location.
The final scheduled task was to hook up four cables between the Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System and the Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 (PMA-2). Lopez-Alegria took pictures of the PMA that provided communications between the Station and Shuttle before the hatches were opened. The EVA ended with Lopez-Alegria setting the record for most EVAs by a single astronaut with a total of ten and Williams setting the record for most EVAs by a woman with a total of four. Sunita Williams reported that her upper body had gotten a workout from all the EVA activity. The crew celebrated with a feast of red herring in tomato sauce, rye bread, pickles, borscht, and mashed potatoes with mushrooms and onions. The next day was a half day and the crew slept in.
Expedition 14 Stage EVA #5
During the early morning hours of February 11, a switching unit malfunctioned, tripping a circuit breaker and causing a temporary loss of communications with Houston and power to the space station. The outage lasted for ninety minutes while the Expedition 14 crew worked to correct it. NASA was quick to assure the public that the crew had never been in any actual danger. It ranked only as a nuisance while the crew spent the rest of the day resetting equipment and getting back on schedule.
On February 22, Atlantis was transferred to its launchpad in preparation for STS-117 and Canadarm2 was moved to the starboard side of the ITS. On the same day, Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin began the final EVA of Expedition 14. They exited Pirs wearing Orlan suits and Tyurin reported that the sublimator on his suit had failed to function. The sublimator was responsible for shedding heat into space and the excess heat caused his visor to fog up. Tyurin turned the sublimator off and back on, solving the problem.
Their first task was to retract a faulty antenna on Progress M-58 and secure it with wire ties to insure that it would not interfere with undocking. They also photographed a Russian satellite navigation antenna and replaced a material exposure experiment. Next, they inspected and photographed an antenna and docking targets that would enable the European ATV to dock with the space station. They photographed a German robotics experiment and made adjustments to hardware connections, inspected retention mechanisms, and bolted joints on a Strela crane. For their final task, they placed two foot restraints on a ladder on Pirs. The EVA ended with a duration of 6 hours and 18 minutes.
The SPHERES Experiment
The Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experiment Satellites (SPHERES) was a test of automated rendezvous, station-keeping and docking for use on future spacecraft. They worked inside the station and were considered a huge success.
Expedition 14 Continues
The Atlantis’ External Tank was damaged by a thunderstorm on February 26, so it was rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for repair. The launch was delayed to May and could be pushed back to June. In the meantime, two burns of the Progress vehicle’s engines were scheduled for mid to late March to boost the space station’s orbit. Sunita Williams practiced use of the CanadArm2 with a laptop-based simulator to keep her skills sharp.
The crew was awakened by a caution and warning alarm on March 1, when signals to the Thermal Radiator Rotary Joint dropped out. The radiator switched to a backup. Williams and Lopez-Alegria installed the Oxygen Generation System (OGS) in the Destiny module. Tyurin stayed busy with maintenance on the Russian side of the space station. He installed equipment that would help ground controllers test a satellite navigation system for the European ATV, placed spare liquids for the Elektron unit in storage, and installed a new display system for the TORU manual docking system that acted as a backup for the navigation system on Progress vehicles. Russian controllers moved up the Progress M-58’s undocking date in preparation for moving the Soyuz TMA-9 from Zarya to Zvezda.
As March continued, the Progress engines fired as planned. Michael Lopez-Alegria and Sunita Williams conducted the ALTEA experiment. They wore caps with sensors that measured cosmic rays passing through their heads and the reactions of their brain functions. The experiment would hopefully lead to new preventive measures that could be used on long-duration space flights. They also reconfigured the station’s network of laptops to make use of wireless and Ethernet connections and improve speed.
Now filled with rubbish, Progress M-58 undocked from the space station and burned up in the atmosphere. On March 29, the Expedition 14 crew reconfigured the space station for unmanned flight and sealed themselves inside the Soyuz. They undocked from Zarya, flew around the station to Zvezda and docked to its wake. This prepared for the arrival of Expedition 15 in Soyuz TMA-10. They reconfigured the station for crewed flight and performed only light duties the next day.
As Expedition 14 began to wind down, Lopez-Alegria set a new American endurance record on April 2, passing the 196-day mark set by Dan Bursch and Carl Walz. The crew tested a compact portable bacteria detector called the Lab-on-a-Chip Application Development Portable Test System (LOCAD-PTS). Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin repeated the TRAC experiment to test hand-eye coordination and also completed another session of the ALTEA experiment.
The Russians announced plans to build a free-flying industrial module called OKA-T-MKS, which would pace the ISS and dock to it for servicing. Originally planned for launch in 2012, it would house unmanned experiments. Repeated delays pushed back the launch date until at least 2017.
Landing of Expedition 14
Mikhail Tyurin and Michael Lopez-Alegria returned to Earth on April 21, 2007. Sunita Williams remained on the space station as part of Expedition 15.
(*)This blogger is not in any way associated with Element 21 or any golf company, organization or professional golfer.
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