The Return of Peggy Whitson
Once known as the over-achieving Science Officer of Expedition 5, Peggy Whitson was returning to the International Space Station as Expedition 16’s commander. To celebrate the occasion, engineers in Russia’s Star City presented her with a Kazakh-style riding whip with the suggestion that she could use it to keep her male colleagues in line. Because she would be launching from Russian facilities, she cheerfully followed Russian customs that included planting a tree within sight of the ones planted by legendary cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova and signing a logbook in a reproduction of Yuri Gagarin’s office. She was pretty casual about the idea of being the first woman commander of the International Space Station: “I think being a woman doesn’t really play too much into that.” She noted that women dominated the leadership for this mission, which included Holly Ridings as Lead Flight Director.
The flight engineer was Yuri Malenchenko, who had previously served on Mir and commanded the Expedition 7 crew. Sheikh Muszapher Shukor from Malaysia was also traveling to the space station as a “space tourist”, another paying spaceflight participant, through Russia’s space agency.
Launch of Soyuz TMA-11
Soyuz TMA-11 launched on October 10, 2007. The ride to the International Space Station in a Soyuz was cramped and tedious. The Soyuz hadn’t grown much since the days of the Space Race. Three people were crammed into a space about the size of a compact car.
Finally, the Soyuz docked with the International Space Station on October 12. Peggy Whitson felt like she was returning to a home that had grown quite a bit since her last stay. A few more Truss segments had been added since then and the total effect reminded her of a big sailing ship. After the usual safety briefing, Shukor and Anderson swapped their couch liner between Soyuz TMA-11 and Soyuz TMA-10. While on the space station, Shokur conducted a total of eight experiments and was hailed as Malaysia’s first astronaut.
The new Expedition crew spent the eight days of handover duties becoming familiar with changes made to the station since their last visits. Then, Soyuz TMA-10 returned home with the Expedition 15 crew and Sheik Muszapher Shukor. Clayton Anderson stayed behind as the third member of Expedition 16. He had a habit of needling Whitson about everything from the Nebraska/Iowa sports rivalry to his choice of wakeup music that included “Whip It” in honor of the female leadership that dominated Expedition 16. Of course, she found opportunities to needle him right back. There’s no word on whether any of Whitson’s colleagues ever actually saw her whip during the mission but Anderson joked, “I’m kind of waiting for her to take it out and put me in line sometimes.”
Expedition 16 didn’t have to wait long for more company. While they made final preparations for the Discovery’s visit, they had a chance to watch the STS-120 launch on October 23. Peggy Whitson commented later that she had halfway expected it to be delayed due to weather.
Harmony Is Moved
With Discovery on its way home, the Expedition 16 crew enjoyed a break on November 5. Then, they began preparations for a Stage EVA that had originally been planned for STS-120, but had been pushed back due to necessary repair work on the P6 Solar Array.
The Stage EVA began early in the morning of November 9 with Peggy Whitson and Yuri Malenchenko exiting through Quest. They began by disconnecting Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System (SSPTS) and other cables between Destiny and one of the Pressurized Mating Adapters, PMA-2. They also moved a CETA light on Destiny and disconnected umbilicals. Moving on, Whitson connected a Power Data Grapple Fixture to be used when Harmony was installed in its final position. Malenchenko replaced a failed EPCM on the exterior of the Z1 Truss. Moving on to Harmony, the two EVA astronauts removed a dust cover protecting a Common Berthing Mechanism that Tani thought looked like a big roasting turkey wrapped in aluminum foil. This also had an effect of uncovering one of Harmony’s windows, which the crew the ability to see the thin layer of atmosphere through Harmony until the time came to move the module into its final position. Malenchenko and Whitson moved on to reroute electrical wires along the Z1 Truss and S0 Truss segment. Whitson retrieved a base-band signal processor for return to Earth and Malenchenko rearranged EVA tools in two storage bags. One of these bags was stowed on the S0 Truss for future EVAs. The astronauts ended their EVA with a duration of 6 hours and 55 minutes just as Atlantis was beginning the process of moving out to the launchpad for STS-121.
The next step in moving Harmony involved extensive work with Canadarm2 on November 13. With Daniel Tani taking the lead, Canadarm2 grasped PMA-2. Whitson sent a command that disconnected four bolts holding PMA-2 to Destiny. As Tani moved PMA-2 away from Destiny, cameras captured images that allowed ground controllers to analyze its mating systems.
Tani moved the PMA-2 to Harmony and connected it to Harmony’s exposed CBM. Whitson activated bolts that winded up to hold PMA-2 in place. The PMA-2 remained in place overnight, and then Canadarm2 got another workout. The combined PMA-2 and Harmony module was the most massive object that Canadarm2 had to move to date. Whitson sent the command that released the bolts holding Harmony in place, and then Tani moved Harmony from its temporary post on Unity to the ram of Destiny. With such a large object on board, Canadarm2’s movement occasionally threw the gyroscopes out of alignment and Tani called off those moments with, “3-2-1 LOAC” to indicate that the station had lost attitude control. As Whitson said in her online journal, “Humorous in training, but I still had the procedures for LOAC during these maneuvers handy.”
Ground tests of an EMU produced a smell of smoke, leading Houston to call a temporary halt to EVAs until the problem could be solved. The most likely cause turned out to be a faulty canister of metal oxide used for the test and the halt was lifted. This cleared Whitson and Tani to make two planned EVAs to finalize the outfitting of Harmony for use.
Stage EVA – November 20, 2007
November 20th saw the first of the two spacewalks with Peggy Whitson and Daniel Tani exiting through Quest. They collected tools and Tani retrieved a bag that had been left on Z1 during the last EVA, and then both astronauts proceeded to Harmony. Whitson temporarily moved an ammonia jumper that was part of the temporary cooling system so she could install Loop A for the permanent system. Some ammonia escaped, forming crystals as it froze, and bounced harmlessly off Whitson. Tani installed two fluid caps for the permanent cooling system and reconfigured an electric circuit that had been used to assist in the deployment of a cooling radiator. Then, both astronauts proceeded to the S-0 Truss and unbolted a Loop-A fluid tray to move it to Harmony. If they lost their grip on it, the tray could have drifted away from the station, so they took turns moving lines to help keep it attached to the exterior. They attached the tray to its place on Harmony and secured fluid connections between the tray and the new module. Tani moved on to configure 16 avionics lines on both the port and starboard sides of Harmony and Whitson configured several cables between PMA-2 and Harmony to provide heating and electricity. Both astronauts finalized connections of redundant umbilicals and connected cables for the Space Shuttle Power Transfer System on PMA-2. Peggy Whitson and Daniel Tani returned to Quest with an EVA of 7 hours 16 minutes.
Stage EVA – November 24, 2007
For the second of two EVAs on November 24th, many of the procedures were similar to the first one. Peggy Whitson installed the second cooling loop, Loop B, for the permanent cooling system. She vented and secured the lines for the temporary system in a place where they wouldn’t be in the way. Tani disconnected two fluid caps and moved a foot restraint to Harmony’s ram. They moved the Loop B cooling tray from S0 to its new home on Harmony. Whitson removed the remaining launch restraints from the CBM as part of preparations for the arrival of STS-121 and the “Columbus” module.
Daniel Tani then moved out to the Starboard Solar Array Rotary Joint (SARJ) to repeat an inspection he had performed during the STS-120 mission. He reported that he was still seeing the same dark, metallic dust he had last time and there seemed to be more of it. He returned a thermal cover from the SARJ to Quest. With that done, the EVA ended with a duration of 7 hours 4 minutes.
A few days later, NASA officials feared that Harmony might have sprung a leak, allowing air to escape through the space station’s seams. Further tests showed that the feared leak wasn’t enough to cause concern. (They do leak, but not enough to pose a threat to Expedition crews.) With Harmony now securely attached and outfitted, Houston controllers gave the okay to open the hatch between the new module and the rest of the station. The lack of planned interior hardware made it seem larger than it really was. The station was now ready for the addition of international modules from Europe and Japan.
With Harmony successfully installed, life on the International Space Station returned to the routine of experiments, housekeeping and exercise. On December 8, a Beta Gimbal Assembly (BGA) for the starboard Solar Array Wings lost electrical power when three electrical circuits tripped. The BGA switched to a backup power supply and controllers decided to leave the wing in a position that wouldn’t interfere with the arrival of STS-122.
On December 18, Peggy Whitson and Daniel Tani began the fourth Stage EVA of Expedition 16 and the 100th EVA devoted to the station. They proceeded to the starboard Solar Array Wings to investigate the cause of the loss of power to the BGA and inspect the damage to the Solar Array Rotary Joint (SARJ). They disconnected cables to the BGA and inspected the assembly for damage. The circuit breakers remained closed and controllers determined that the cables weren’t the cause. Neither spacewalker saw any obvious damage. Proceeding to the SARJ, the astronauts removed covers to inspect both the joint and the covers. The black metallic dust still covered parts of the joint. They took pictures and collected samples of the dust for analysis. For their final task, they removed one of twelve trundle bearing assemblies on the SARJ’s race ring. The EVA ended with a duration of 6 hours and 56 minutes. Peggy Whitson now held the woman’s record for total EVA time at 32 hours and 36 minutes.
With the Space Shuttle’s launch schedule delayed yet again, the next spacecraft to visit the Space Station was the unmanned Progress 27 from Russia, which delivered 2.5 tons of supplies. It replaced Progress 26, which had undocked just days before and was due to carry out some Earth-observation experiments before burning up in the atmosphere with its load of garbage.
The Progress vessels often brought up fresh produce for the crew to give them a little break from the usual space food, which Peggy Whitson described as being like the unappetizing Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) often used as field rations in the military, with only a selection of sauces to liven it up. The food got to be a bit of a joke with the crew and they often asked each other, “So, what are you having with your sauce today?” The required two hours of daily exercise was more bearable and Peggy Whitson called it a good stress reliever.
Christmas and New Year’s Day came and went, and then Peggy Whitson and Daniel Tani exited through Quest for an EVA on January 30. The main focus was on replacing a Bearing Motor Roll Ring Module (BMRRM, pronounced “broom”) in the same Beta Gimbal Assembly that had lost power in early December with a spare that had been stowed on PMA-3. The BMRRM was responsible for rotating the starboard Solar Array along its axis. Once the replacement was complete, controllers rotated the starboard solar array to test the new BMRRM. The two spacewalkers made another inspection of the starboard Solar Array Rotary Joint, which showed the same type of damage, black dust and metallic shavings from wear and tear on the joint. The EVA ended with a duration of 7 hours and 10 minutes.
Progress 27 undocked on February 4 and was replaced by Progress 28 on February 7. This one caused some concern when it couldn’t seem to stay oriented with its line-of-sight signal with the station. It got so close to the station that Malenchenko, sitting at the Progress’s TORU remote control, might not be able to react in time if there were problems. It developed a roll angle error and over-corrected. Then, it aligned correctly and docked with the station. “Sepka!” Malenchenko reported in Russian to indicate contact. “The Onion Express has arrived,” said Daniel Tani. A relieved Peggy Whitson told Malenchenko that he could have flown that one better than the automated system did. A similar automated vehicle had collided with the Russian “Mir” space station in the 1990s, coming close to forcing the crew to evacuate, and the same thing could have happened to the International Space Station. The Progresses did sort of look like onions and this one brought some real onions that the crew enjoyed with beef brisket on tortillas along with two and a half tons of supplies.
The STS-122 mission launched the same day on the Space Shuttle Atlantis to deliver the “Columbus” science laboratory from the European Space Agency.
Arrival of the First ATV
On April 3, 2008, the long-awaited Automated Transfer Vessel (ATV) docked with the aft port on the International Space Station’s Zvezda module. Dubbed the “Jules Verne,” the European-built ATV carried 7,500 pounds of supplies, equipment and gases for the space station. This placed it at nearly triple the capacity of the Russian Progress vessels. The Jules Verne was the first of seven planned ATVs.
The Jules Verne had actually been launched from Kourou, French Guiana, on March 9 and placed in a parking orbit 1,200 miles from the space station. This allowed controllers to safely perform tests, the last of which were two practice approaches to the station. It weighed nearly 22 tons, making it the largest payload ever launched by the European rocket Ariane 5. The Jules Verne was scheduled to remain in place until August 2008 while it was unloaded, reloaded with garbage, and used to boost the station’s orbit. Like the Progress vessels, it was destined to burn up in the atmosphere after reentry.
By this point, Expedition 16 was beginning to wind down. Peggy Whitson referred to the fact that time was running short in her journal: “People I wanted to thank from orbit, pictures I wanted to take, thoughts I wanted to capture in writing…it always seemed that there would be plenty of time, until now.” The station had really grown a lot since their arrival. The Harmony Node 2 module, Columbus laboratory module and first part of the Kibo laboratory module had arrived on three shuttle flights. The ground controllers they spoke to had expanded from those in Moscow, Houston and Huntsville, Alabama to the addition of controllers in Cologne, Germany, and Tsukuba, Japan, making the International Space Station more “International”.
The Arrival of Expedition 17
When Expedition 17 arrived on Soyuz TMA-12 and docked with the space station on April 10, 2008, the combined crews spent the next nine days taking care of handover duties. Garrett Reisman, who had arrived on the station as part of STS-123, would be joining Expedition 17. Yuri Malenchenko and Peggy Whitson returned home with Spaceflight Participant So-Yeon Yi on April 19, 2008. Due to difficulties with the Soyuz, it landed 420 kilometers from its planned landing site but recovery crews were quick to reach their location.
International Space Station Collectibles