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Space Station Crew Face Air-Scrubber Failures 84

madumas writes: "This article reports that the crew of the ISS (or alpha, or...) seem to have some problems with their air scrubber. They need replacement parts so fix the regenerator. It's interesting to see that they are a failure away from an emergency evacuation. For now, they are planning the shipping of the spare parts that should be done Dec. 26. Let's hope for them it doesn't fail."
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Space Station Crew Face Air-Scrubber Failures

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  • read the article! =P

    the problem is getting replacement parts to the station in time (measured in weeks). their current system is still working, and they have abut 15 days of chemical backup even if that system fails.
  • Well, a bad electrical connector, notwithstanding what common sense tells us it should be, could be anything from a broken electrical clip, to faulty wiring, a short in the component, etc. But saying that it is a bad electrical connector sounds better and scares less people (and scared people don't like funding things that scare them) then saying "electrical fire" or "short in the system".

  • Even if the cost of the ISS has gone far higher than expected, this station has been build with more than reduced security margins. I bet they'll run into more trouble soon.
  • Didn't they learn anything from Mir?

    No, because too many of us in the West would sit around and make smug noises every time something went wrong with Mir.

  • Maybe they will have when the station is bigger ?!
  • That would have to be one hell of a large one... man, what are they serving those poor guys.

    Imagine that headline: "Astonauts dead of metan poisoning."
    One of the few surviors said:

    - First, it was this dreadfull sound, like a deep rumble... Then we strated to realise something was very wrong. We all headed for the emergency escape craft...*cries*...God! It was so horrible...people dying all over... I'm so lucky to sit here today.

    - Knut S.
  • U forgot India which has got a very active space program though more in remote sensing(best in the world The US military buys data from Indian Satellites) than in launch but thay could still help out.
    Oh I almost forgot ! In any case the whole NASA effort too is mostly been run by Chinese and Indians ;)
  • Then, write some code so that after 1000 hits, it switches over to a redirect....

    You can do this without CGI. Client side Javascript can do something similar. Implement a normal Client Javascript static page which detected either the source of the page request or the system time and changed the page accordingly.....
  • Here's a link I submitted some time ago, but which wasn't considered interesting enough to post: /s pac.html

    Looks like Space Station Alf is a disaster just waiting to happen...
  • I would say comparable number of people for both space programs (can anybody count the flights at Encyclopedia Astronautica []?) And, of course, Russians spent a lot more man-days in space.

    Russia (USSR) has lost 4 cosmonauts in two in-flight accidents, all of them on landing:

    Vladimir Komarov (Soyuz 1, Apr 23 1967) - parachute system failure, the capsule crashed into a field;

    Georgi Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, Vladislav Volkov (Soyuz 11, Jun 6 1971, first ever space station flight) - valve failure on separation of orbital module and landing capsule. No spacesuits and no air.

    There was one Russian accident similar to Apollo 1: Valentin Bondarenko was killed on March 23, 1961 in oxygen camera. After a routine blood test he dropped alcohol soaked cotton ball on a hot electric stove, starting the oxygen fire. Valentin died in the hospital the same day.

    There were no more Cosmonaut deaths. However, there were numerous rocket and military missile accidents killing the ground crew.

  • they did plan for it (even if they weren't counting on it), foolio.

    That's why the astronauts aren't dead.

  • I mean, come ON. These guys used to be unbeatable. They used to plan for everything! They're just a pale ghost now of what they were in the 60's, trumpeting as achievements things we could have done as early as 1970.

    Gimme a break. Problems with the air scrubbers, so they have to send back to earth for more? What happened to the old Nasa "Triple-redundant-everything-even-toilet-paper" game plan? In the Apollo 13 mission, when everything was going down the crapper all at once, the air scrubbers started going out, too. So some really smart guys on the ground worked out a plan to fix the scrubbing system with nothing more than the spare junk the astronauts had with 'em in the spacecraft. Now THAT's enterprising.

    The reason behind all this is simple, it seems to me: funding. Remember that Mars lander the US government spent millions on, which we lost contact with? They believe it might have been a failure due to a faulty communications component that should have been caught in quality control. Quite simply, if you look at the numbers, the US government has been cutting NASA's funding back since the early 70's, basically strangling them. The government has NEVER taken NASA seriously, or the benefits of space travel.

    In the 60's, the government's view towards space was "beat the ruskies". In the 70's it was "well we have this new space shuttle, let's use it". In the 80's and 90's, it was "let's let the science guys have their fun, it's good entertainment." Like their very own science fiction movie! The only reason we still have a space program is because the government knows it needs it for PR purposes. Quite simply, space exploration today is a pitiful shadow of what it could be. We could have had a moon base AND a mars base by now. We could be researching lunar and asteroid mining. We could be researching zero-g manufacturing and medical techniques. We could be looking into using space-age technology to build floating cities to use the 75% of earth's surface area we can't inhabit. Instead, we have a massive financial boondoggle and a tiny little space station that's falling apart as fast as we can build it.

    Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction author and inventor of the communications satellite, was predicting such things as zero-g medical facilities saving lives and asteroid mining and mars colonies. He was predicting these things back in the 50's, and certainly expected them before 1980, as he should have - everyone mistook NASA's government support as a support of science, rather than simply a oneupmanship contest with the Russians. Now, 50 years later, we have done NOTHING.

    I think it's time for something to be done. What, I'm not sure. Suggestions?

  • "...will be ferried into orbit aboard Atlantis, scheduled for launch Jan. 18, or the next Progress supply ship, currently targeted for takeoff Feb. 10.

    12/26 is the likely redoclking of the Progress currently parked in a nearby orbit which they unloaded and undocked before the last shuttle mission. They're simply redocking it so they can use it for a dumpster
  • And Russians have better record on launch abort casualties:

    April 05 1975, crew of 2 - stages 2 and 3 failed to separate - 20G reentry, both survived.

    September 26 1983, crew of 2 - explosion on the pad, saved by the launch abort system.

    Compare to STS-51-L.
  • I think it's time for something to be done. What, I'm not sure. Suggestions?

    It may take another 20 years, but the privatization of space travel will most certainly boost things significantly. If the government wont take it seriously, someone with billions of dollars to make will! Not that I necessarily think that this is what SHOULD be done but its better than none at all...
  • This ought to be viewed as a triumph for the space program in general. Rather than "parts are broken, we are all dieing now" we have "parts are broken. Send more on the next boat, would you?".

    Those of us who really want to see the space program go should note that this is one of the major differences between occasionally shooting men off in a ballistic orbit and running a flight service. Events that were previously life threatening and required massive engineering/bravery/effort, are now being dealt with in more or less routine fashion, by a supply chain, transport, and on-site service.

    I want to see the day when I can book a ticket off this rock through any travel agent.

  • ...but it'll be guaranteed to work when you need it to.

    Yea, well, 1 out of 3 ain't bad I suppose.

    ---- Sigs are bad for your health ----

  • Because the primary shrubber is quite capable of doing his job alone, and they like being called "botanists", by the way. Virg
  • As someone else mentioned above, pencils leave dust behind, both when using and erasing, as well as when sharpening. This isn't a problem here on earth, but in space, you don't exactly want a lot of graphite and wood shavings floating around, mucking up your electrical equipment, your air filters/scrubbers, and your lungs.
  • Thing is, how many other countries have a major space program (host country going bankrupt notwithstanding) that have a lot of microgravity experience, and are politcally friendly?

    The US and France (not that France has any kind of space program) are not at the best of terms, Germany is still re-building the eastern half, the UK... what are they up to, and Japan. Actually, I'm surprised that Japan isn't involved... well, maybe they are, but if so, the newspeople are ignoring it.

    You can pretty much count out all of Africa, the Middle East, most of Asia, South America, and a fair chunk of Europe. No one really lives in Antarctica, so that really leaves the Aussies. Are they involved? If not, why not? (Probably because you couldn't convince an Aussie he'd need a spacesuit...)

    Finally, I wouldn't be too surprised if some of the American bits start breaking too. If the past is any indication, the parts were either made by the lowest bidder, or by some pork-barrelled government contractor who can charge $300 for a screwdriver.

    Just my 2 shekels.

  • The part in the Slashdot posting about December 26th is wrong. The parts aren't aboard the M1-4. The new parts will be sent up either aboard Atlantis in January or in a Russian rocket in Febrary.

    Everything has already been offloaded from the M1-4. I believe the redocking of the Progress M1-4 vehicle is only to test the patch that Russia sent up to fix the errors during the last docking, and possibly to use it to jettison waste that has built up in the station. The US is hesitant to allow another docking because it was during a similiar manual docking that the Mir was almost destroyed.

  • We're too busy riding kangeroos to work..

    Actually Australia and Japan are cooperating on a space program based at Woomera (where a lot of US and British missiles used to get tested).

    The Japaneese have been testing an unpowered return vehicle that can be attached to a rocket shuttle style, deploy a satellite, then glide back down to earth.

    The glide back down to earth bit is what they were testing at woomera.

    There was talk of it being used as a CRV as well.
  • Russian, American. Who cares. It's all made in Taiwan....

  • Anyone who is interested in the fate of the International Space Station might want want to consider checking out "Dragonfly" [], a book about the experiences of the NASA astronauts on Mir. They had quite a bit of trouble with these air scrubbers, which I believe are the same used on ISS. Someone correct me if I'm mistaken.
  • by lar3ry ( 10905 ) on Monday December 18, 2000 @03:15AM (#552674)
    Since your reindeer seem to defy all the laws of physics, do you think that you could take a few minutes from your busy schedule on Monday and send us up a couple of spare air scrubbers? We promise to leave you out some milk and cookies in return.

    Yours truly,
    The Crew of the International Space Station
    (Send it now before the postage rates go up!)
  • How many people has the US launched in that time, and how many has Russia/USSR? IIRC, the USA has never lost a person outside Earth's atmosphere, and only a handful off the pad (the 7 in the Challenger).
  • Today:
    - "Should be here by December 26th."

    December 26th:
    - "Should be here next week..."

    The next week:
    - "Well, we had to ship it from Germany. It'll arrive early next week - we hope..."

    ...and the week after:
    - "Any time now, we promise!"

    Can we expect the space industry to be any better than car repairers?

  • I remember the bit in the movie about the Apollo mission came close to disaster. The CO2 unit was in trouble and engineers on the ground had to come up with a DIY CO2 unit quickly. The inventiveness of the engineers and astronauts should see them through this one.
  • by First Person ( 51018 ) on Monday December 18, 2000 @06:39AM (#552678)

    One important lesson from Alpha, Mir, and even the US space shuttle is that when items break in space, they're hard to repair. The space shuttle is only expected to be in space for a few days (maximum of about 2 weeks, I belive). If something serious goes wrong, they can always abort the mission and land early. Likewise, Alpha and Mir underwent periodic resupply and in extreme cases could flee back to Earth.

    Now consider a mission to Mars. This would have a duration of about 3 years. If you ran into problems two months out, if should take at least a month to return, and more likely 3 (depending of fuel capacity and burn rate). So, you simply fix the problem or you die. Now who here trusts their engineering for that project?

  • by drsoran ( 979 ) on Monday December 18, 2000 @03:56AM (#552679)
    Naw, this isn't your father's NASA. Today those guys would have probably died while they were fscking around rebooting their NT boxes on the ground at mission control to verify that it wasn't an anomaly in their telemetry. I'm probably just dealing with the wrong people, but these are definitely NOT the types that could improvise anything. Even suggesting some non-COTS solution is like hitting them in the head with a clue stick. They just stare at you like you're speaking Martian.
  • I think it was the Fisher company that developed the Space Pen, I remember touring their plant in Las Vegas when I was a Boy Scout...

    They've got more uses than just space, I use mine for writing on paper that's gotten greasy, or on some shiny labels. They also work upside down, under water, and in extreme temperatures.

    You can find out some more about them at the company's web site [].
  • by Foochar ( 129133 ) <foochar AT gmail DOT com> on Monday December 18, 2000 @04:32AM (#552681) Journal
    First off, if you read the article you'll realize that the supply ship that will be docking on the 26th is a Russian Progress unit that has been up for about a month or so. It went up shortly after they took residence on the station. So when that unit went up they still had two spares for the fan unit.

    Secondly even if the third fan were to go, and no one could launch in the 14 day time frame we still wouldn't be runing a risk of losing anyone. There is a Soyez capsule attacked to the station, the same one that they used to get to the station that they can evacuate in at any time.
  • Now I know they had two backups, but when you hear a quote like this:
    "We weren't counting on multiple failures."
    you have to wonder. I mean, shouldn't they count on multiple failures, and design systems with this in mind?

    Check out Greg's Bridge Page!
  • Why didn't they release the source for the air scrubber? Seems to me that if the air scrubber was open source this wouldn't have been a problem. Each of us could have examined the source and made sure that is was good. Open source is good. Linux.
  • Not true, you just can't reverse course and head for home; orbital mechanics doesn't work like that. You have to wait for the Earth to be in position again, since it has moved ahead in its orbit since you set out for Mars. "The Case For Mars" has a very good treatment of the subject for many different Mars trajectories and abort options. Some depend on a "free-return" trajectory, using Mars' gravity to slingshot back toward Earth -- much like what was used during Apollo.
  • did you know the original Shuttle designs had emergency systems which would have prevented the Challenger disaster?

    The original Shuttle designs also were planned to be processed horizontally(like an airliner), reduce launch costs to the vicinity of $100-200 per pound to Low Earth Orbit(1975 dollars) and to have a two week turnaround. AFAIK, the shuttle has about a 3 month turnaround if they rush it, and it still costs $10,000+ to launch a pound into LEO. The problems with the shuttle were not brought about by congress, but by technology.

    Also, they do have alternative methods for redundancy. Was I the only one that noticed that they still have disposable canisters to use for CO2 scrubbing?
  • by erpbridge ( 64037 ) <steve&erpbridge,com> on Monday December 18, 2000 @07:13AM (#552686) Journal
    To quote the Russian Cosmonaut from "Armageddon":

    Russian components, American Components. They're all made in Taiwan!

  • This isn't a detroit car folks, so cut the ISS builders some slack. Guess what--- space exploration is DANGEROUS.

    The first Jet Planes didn't win any safety awards, either.
  • Mir SURVIVED power failures, collisions, fire, corrosion, air leaks and more. It beat all expectations and lived well beyond its projected lifetime. Do you call this a wreck? ISS WILL experience failures. This is just the first and I believe there are many more to come. Will it hang on when the hard times come?
  • Didn't they learn anything from Mir? Why did they go there before? Wasn't it supposed to help avoid problems like that?
    Some of you may say that they did the station in a hurry, but they wouldn't launch it without life support system working right.
  • During the assembly phase of the ISS one of the more persistent rumors about the reason for the delays was that the U.S. components were sub-par, made by the lowest bidder and had to be improved before being useable.

    Friend, the most technologically advanced military and space program in the world is based on obtaining the world's best equipment for as good a price as possible. What's your point? The M1 Abrams was probably made by the lowest bidder--do you want to tangle with one of those? :-)

    Inevitably, some stuff won't be up to par, some will be lemons, whatever. Who's procurement system is any better? Someone's, probably, but no system is going to be perfect. Anyway, to imply that the station is suffering because of how NASA procures equipment is foolish. As far as the rumor, why embarrass yourself by posting it? It's a rumor, and a lousy one at that, I would say. Post some facts, instead.

  • Informative?

    Looks like a certain moderator needs to check the links before moderating!
  • Check the links before you moderate! Read the full comment, check the link, and THEN moderate. Hell, the link could be broken, or worse (like this case.) Once again, the troll fooled you, adding the @ at the end...

    I know I'm going down as flamebait, but still....
  • Now would that be the BSD licensce, or GPL?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    they could put little pieces of the sun in their lungs too. and drink lots of water.
  • Nah, it's called 'hivemind' and is highly kibological []. Technically, you should gain part of any Karma I recieve, but the SlashBop tech doesn't understand hivemind correctly yet... sorry 'bout that.


  • I don't know about the U.S., but here in Europe Russian technolgy has a reputation for being extremely simple and robust. During the assembly phase of the ISS one of the more persistent rumors about the reason for the delays was that the U.S. components were sub-par, made by the lowest bidder and had to be improved before being useable.

    IMHO the best anecdote about the different attitudes towards space technology in the U.S. and Russia is the bit about the writing utensils: when early astronauts/kosmonauts found out that ballpoint pens fail in microgravity, the U.S. spent a comparatively large amount of time and money to devise a pen that would actually work in an oribiting spacecraft (the famous "space pen"). The Russians thought about the matter for a moment and decided to use pencils instead.



  • by Mignon ( 34109 ) <> on Monday December 18, 2000 @04:42AM (#552697)
    On first glance at the article, I thought it said "they are a fart away from an emergency evacuation." I was imagining a bunch of grimacing astronauts squeezing their cheeks together to keep from lettin go.

    Imagine the shame of being the first to let one rip. "This is Commander Smith. He was first in his class at the Air Force Academy and was Top Gun, but he cleared the International Space Station with one SBD..."

  • And Apollo 1. I think that overall the US has lost more people than Russia, but Russia's had more failures that result in 1 or 2 deaths, while the US tends to take out 3 or more poeple at once.
    webmaster at aardvarko dot com
  • Hmm.. I'm writing this at a school workstation, and it seems aadcarko didn't log off slashdot, and I didn't notice. Oops!
    webmaster at aardvarko dot com
  • Is it just me, or do all of the systems that are failing seem to be Russian? I haven't followed everything too closely, but it seems to me that the airconditioner, the automatic docking, and air scrubbers have all been Russian components. Maybe it's just because most of what is up there is Russian now, but it makes me nervous.

  • I find it irritating that everyone keeps talking about the lowest bidder. These are people that know nothing about how US government contracts are awarded. Lowest bidder in not the only criteria. In fact, to even be considered for a bid the company must show the necessary technical capability. When the companies bid, each proposal is studied to see if it meets the requirements of the contract and shows good technical merrit.

    To suggest that the US space program is dominated by the lowest bidder mentality is false and annoying.

    The US has always been highly concerned with astranaut safety. To suggest otherwise is just pure bullshit.

    Troy Roberts
  • IMHO the best anecdote about the different attitudes towards space technology in the U.S. and Russia is the bit about the writing utensils: when early astronauts/kosmonauts found out that ballpoint pens fail in microgravity, the U.S. spent a comparatively large amount of time and money to devise a pen that would actually work in an oribiting spacecraft (the famous "space pen"). The Russians thought about the matter for a moment and decided to use pencils instead.

    For clarification, NASA did not develop the space pen, a some company (don't remember which) did that for free, and the Russians now use it, too. At first, the U.S. used pencils, too, but sharpening pencils creates dust which never settles in microgravity, and graphite conducts electricity. That could potentially create problems.

    Aside from that, your are right. If I remember correctly, the German air force still has some operational MIG 29s left from the GDR, and those bird do have a reputation of being very robust and reliable (for a fighter aircraft).


  • >Thing is, how many other countries have a major
    >space program (host country going bankrupt
    >notwithstanding) that have a lot of microgravity
    >experience, and are politcally friendly?

    >The US and France (not that France has any kind
    >of space program) are not at the best of terms,
    >Germany is still re-building the eastern half,
    >the UK... what are they up to, and Japan.
    >Actually, I'm surprised that Japan isn't
    >involved... well, maybe they are, but if so, the
    >newspeople are ignoring it.

    >You can pretty much count out all of Africa, the
    >Middle East, most of Asia, South America,and a
    >fair chunk of Europe. No one really lives in
    >Antarctica, so that really leaves the Aussies.
    >Are they involved? If not, why not? (Probably
    >because you couldn't convince an Aussie he'd
    >need a spacesuit...)

    Well while it is true Russia and the U.S. are doing the majority of the work and cost, there are a number of other countries that will contribute after the core of the station is built.

    Some of the countries future contributions include:

    -Truss and Photovoltaic Arrays
    -U.S. Lab
    -Centrifuge Accomodation Module
    -Node 2
    -Node 3
    -Crew Return Vehicle (X-38)
    -Habitation Module

    -Science Power Platform
    -Universal Docking Module
    -Research Module 1
    -Research Module 2
    -Docking Compartment

    -Kibo [JEM Experimental Logistics Module, JEM Remote Manipulator System, JEM Exposed Facility] []

    European Union:
    -European Lab/Columbus Orbital Facility []

    -CSA Remote Manipulator System [] (robot arm)

    -Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (A supply "van" for moving stuff from Earth to the station) [] Brazil: Express Express []

    Some excellent links:

  • By some DJ in the midwest? That's by Bob Rivers & Twisted Radio! :) That's no doubt my favorite christmas CD. I think they came out with a second, but I've had the first for a few years and I believe you should be able to find either at a music store.
  • Mir may not be the fanciest craft under the sun, but it's kept going and stayed in service far longer than it's original mandate - almost fifteen years. Those Ruskies have always gone for reliability over anything else, from weapons of war to space stations, and it's put them in good stead. It may be lower-tech than something the USA could dream up, but it'll be guaranteed to work when you need it to.

    Given the budgetry constraints the USSR and now Russia have been under I have to take my hat off to them. Their work is an example to others.
  • Lets hope that their parts dont get lost in all the holiday rush mail.
  • this was posted some time back, forgot when.
  • Those Ruskies have always gone for reliability over anything else, from weapons of war to space stations...

    Don't forget vodka. That's reliable as anything.

  • Michael Foale, the British astronaut who was on board Mir when it was rammed by the supply ship, was saying (if I remember correctly) back in 1999 that one of the biggest problems with the ISS would be that many critical components were going to be based on Mir technology, which just wasn't up to engineering specifics. I even think he pointed to the CO2 scrubber system specifically; anyone interested in an alternate take on this should try the book written by his father, Colin Foale, called Waystation to the Stars in the UK. The book offers an interesting evaluation of what the ISS faces when considered by an occupant of the same underfunded and ancient technologies.

    As far as whinging about NASA goes, the problem is multifaceted: reduced spending, wayward spending, political interests beefing up programs for Congressional approval only because of the amount of pork they'd bring to their constituents (and thereby putting price tags so high that they get shelved).

    But it's best that we're not cynical about this. Try and recall the technologies we got humans to the moon with, how antiquated and retrogade it is to us now. The ISS could stay up, and people will surivive - just look at what Shackelton went through in the Antarctic - as long as we don't cave into easy cynicism and humor. And why not? Because if this program fails, so will all other future multinational space efforts - and the result will be that someday someone's going to plant an AOL / Time Warner flag on Mars by the time we get there.

  • But those political problems have a direct relationship to the problem at hand.

    They may have the experiance to do it right, but if they don't have the money to pay thier engineers and thier assembly-line folk, there's going to be problems no matter how much experience they have.


  • by SurrealKnife ( 245528 ) on Monday December 18, 2000 @12:45AM (#552711) Homepage
    Hmmm... does this remind anyone else of that scene in Apollo 13 [] where they have to bodge an air filter together?

    "After a day and a half in the LM a warning light showed that the carbon dioxide had built up to a dangerous level. Mission Control devised a way to attach the CM canisters to the LM system by using plastic bags, cardboard, and tape- all materials carried on board."

    Will they never learn?

  • The problems with the shuttle were not brought about by congress, but by technology.

    In a word, bullshit.

    From the STS 51-L Mission Overview and Preface to Presidential Commission Report on the Challenger Accident []:

    1. The Space Shuttle System was not designed to survive a failure of the Solid Rocket Boosters. There are no corrective actions that can be taken if the boosters do not operate properly after ignition, i.e., there is no ability to separate an Orbiter safely from thrusting boosters and no ability for the crew to escape the vehicle during first-stage ascent.

    Neither the Mission Control Team not the 51-L crew had any warning of impending disaster.

    Even if there had been warning, there were no actions available to the crew of the Mission Control Team to avert the disaster.

    The original design of the Shuttle was quite different from what we finally ended up with; check this bibliography [] if you want more detail. The short story was that it went from a completely-reusable, general-purpose launch vehicle to one which was extremely compromized by two things: reusable space vehicle only (with partial reuse of the solid boosters) and the military-driven cross-range necessary for once-around abort returns to Vandenberg AFB. What had been liquid boosters were now solids, and there was no separation capability during solid burn -- the separation rockets had been removed to meet DOD spy-satellite launch requirements.

    These changes were driven by Congress, admittedly with help from the Nixon administration.

    The present vehicle bears little resemblance to the original proposals; not having seen those embodied and flown, I can't say whether they'd meet the design turnaround and costs. However, if you bother to talk to anyone who was significantly involved in the early Shuttle work, you'd find that I have told the simple truth. In a sense, they are technology problems -- but the technology is a forced, cutrate bastardization of the original designs.


  • I don't know what kind of emergency systems you're referring to--not because I think you're wrong, rather I just don't know much about the original design. However, I was told that the early flights used some sort of ejection mechanism, which was later removed for space and weight reasons (once they considered the shuttle safe enough).

    -Paul Komarek
  • It would be released under the AIR license.
  • Actually, your statistics rely on "public data." The Russians lie. There were at least two capsules that never made it up (explosions on launch), and a fair number that died on the ground (one of which, if I recall correctly, actually took out some high level brass observing nearby.) Not to mention at least one that we heard of where the astronauts died in the capsule, because of leaks. Of course, these events never made it into the "public record." One of the advantages of working in a totalitarian system, where you can truly control the media. (I heard of them because one of my father's friends worked on their projects as an engineer.)

  • An air scrubber failure is not only easily detected but easily escapable. All they have to do is watch the CO2 and other toxin levels SLOWLY rise to figure out if its failed. Now if they move ultra slow they might be in trouble but we're talking slow like 30 minutes slow. I doubt it will take 30 minute to put on an emergency respirator.
  • > The Russians lie.

    Whoops. I am Russian. Can't trust me. Duh.

    > Actually, your statistics rely on "public data."

    Where have you been for the last 10 years? (sorry, couldn't resist).

    > There were at least two capsules that never made it up

    Soyuz 18-1 and Soyuz T-10-1.

    A lot of rockets never made it up. See this list []. Only a few of them were manned: Soyuz 18-1 [], Soyuz T-10-1 [], STS-51-L []. It so happened that 7 astronauts died, but 4 cosmonauts survived.

    > a fair number that died on the ground (one of which, if I recall correctly, actually took out some high level brass observing nearby.)

    This one: The Nedelin Catastrophe [].

    > Not to mention at least one that we heard of where the astronauts died in the capsule, because of leaks

    Georgi Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, Vladislav Volkov (Soyuz 11 [], Jun 6 1971) - on descent. Public record as of 1971.

    > Of course, these events never made it into the "public record."

    But they made it into state records, which eventually became public [].
  • I'm not sure if I get this. The M1-4 already has the spare parts on board and is not far away from the station --- they only have to manually dock it. Is that correct? With all these acronyms and numbers, I'm completely confused ...
    So if the last compressor fails, they still have two more tries: Fix the plug on replacement number one, and try to dock the supplies vehicle.
  • Hahah. Damnit, I should have checked /. just a tad sooner. you stole my thought!

    (Hrm. would that be a thought crime? *ducks flames*)
  • Oy! hands off my karma! I'd post this at 0 if I could, but there's no option to... it's a joke!
  • " the UK... what are they up to"

    For some reason we seem to more or less ignore space research, we're quite happy to tag along on the heels of the US and not send anything up ourselves. You'd think it'd save us enough money to have realistic petrol prices, but no.....

  • by Kierthos ( 225954 ) on Monday December 18, 2000 @01:48AM (#552722) Homepage
    How very true. Now, early on in their "quest for space" (i.e. the space race between the USSR and the USA, where the USSR was kicking our butts in terms of hours in space and orbits of the Earth), and even before that (unmanned shots, animals launched into space), the Russians had numerable problems. Foremost among them was a 'tendency' for their rockets to explode on the pad shortly afterwards. For a while, the attrition rate was upwards of 30%.

    Now, as muecksteiner pointed out, the good old USA spent a bucket of money on the space pen, while the Russians went to pencils. The Russians are also known for incredibly good mathematicians and tech that you literally have to take a hammer to to destroy.

    Given the amount of materials and components that are going into the ISS and the length of time that many of these components are rated to work for, I am not surprised that some things break down. I am surprised that it doesn't happen more often. Even considering the incredible advances in technology that we have made in the last 100 years (much less the last 10), we still have so little experience with microgravity. There is no way to predict how certain components will act in microgravity. We learn new things each day that there are people in the ISS.

    Now, does the breakdown of the air scrubber mean we should all hide our heads in the sand like good little neo-Luddites? No. Does it mean that we should start finger-pointing and look for someone to blame? No. We should get the damn thing fixed and get on with life in general and get the rest of the ISS built.

    Just my 2 shekels.

  • by Thalia ( 42305 ) on Monday December 18, 2000 @01:50AM (#552723)
    So far, they went through two fans, and are on the third one for the only air purification system they have on-board. It appears, although the article doesn't specifically mention this, that the two failed fans can not be repaired. (although they say that one of the fans had a "bad electrical connector" which sounds like something emminently fixable.) The question of whether they could jury-rig an alternative fan is also not addressed.

    By the way, according to the story, the replacement parts "will be ferried into orbit aboard Atlantis, scheduled for launch Jan. 18, or the next Progress supply ship, currently targeted for takeoff Feb. 10." This sounds like the next supply ship (December 26th) will not have these bits.

    Well, even if the air supply system truly fails, they have 14 days, and we or the Russians can certainly launch in less time than that. The US doesn't lose astronauts as easily as the Russians, I expect we'd try to save them.

  • I think that link has been on /. too many times already. Judging by the picture, it looks like the main page has suffered heavily form the slashdot effect...

  • Yes, it is surprising that the Russian bits are failing first.

    Russia is the only nation in the world that has experience of long-term space habitation. The longest time period that a US space station has ever been manned is only 84 days for the Skylab 4 mission - nothing compared to Mir.

    Russia may have political problems, but it has the most experienced people in the world at keeping humans alive in orbit.
  • They did count on multiple failures -- that's why they had two backups for the critical system. The guy's comment was just frustration, not a statement of design philosophy.

    Spacecraft (especially manned spacecraft) tend to be designed with redundant systems, to remove single-point failure modes. When a system is particularly critical (like for breathing), they'll make it triple-redundant (yeah, I know -- but that's what they tend to call it, anyway). In this case, they simply provided three of the part, but it would appear that all the parts had similar failure rates. A better design philosophy might be to provide alternative methods for the redundancy, but this costs more -- a lot more -- and Congress was intent on reducing the cost of the ISS, if not killing it outright.

    Come to think of it, they gutted the project pretty much the same way they did Shuttle -- did you know the original Shuttle designs had emergency systems which would have prevented the Challenger disaster?


  • Yeah, they use air scrubbers in submarines too, but it's a different system...

    Nuclear subs have oxygen generators [] that break up seawater into hydrogen and oxygen. They aren't operated as closed systems. Spacecraft, of course, don't have that option.

  • If you ran into problems two months out, if should take at least a month to return, and more likely 3

    Much worse than that ... depending on the trajectory it would take anywhere from 1 1/2 years to 3 years to return! Seems that manned Mars missions call for heavy redundancy...
  • The problem being of course that the Earth would no longer be where you left it. It's orbit around the sun would make it very difficult to come back quickly if you choose the shortest launch window to Mars.

    And here, have a link to various mission profiles complete with some graphics of return tragectories:

    Free Return Trajectories for Mars Missions []
    Mars Exploration Strategies []
    Exploration of Mars []

  • My time estimate, while admittedly weak, is based on the assumption that reserve fuel would be available and that every ounce would be spent on changing the trajectory and returning to earth.

  • Oh god! I know this is gonna be one of those fedex commerials just like the Crocidile Hunter. Better send it Fedex Space 2 Day.
  • Any good vendor of space technology will just send them replacement parts overnight by FEDEX.
  • Thing is, there's only so many times you can test something to insure that it works properly before you start drastically cutting its usage lifetime. Another thing you have to consider is that some things work differently in microgravity then in 1-G environments. Yeah, they use air scrubbers in submarines too, but it's a different system, and if all else fails, they can always rise to the surface for more air.

    Anyway, if they have to go to their backup backup system, which only lasts for 14 days, they still have plenty of time. There's a launch on the 26th, which still gives them 6 spare days to play around with. And given that time frame, if the launch on the 26th goes wrong, there's still time to try a few more options.

    Finally, MIR was a wreck to begin with...


Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"