Space station loses use of 2nd gyroscope

Two stabilizers remain

not in danger, crew will try a spacewalk repair

April 23, 2004|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,ORLANDO SENTINEL

WASHINGTON - A second of four gyroscopes that help stabilize the International Space Station has stopped working, although NASA officials remain confident that the orbiting laboratory won't be seriously affected by it.

The station can be operated safely with only two of the stabilizers - and if one of them fails, small thrusters can be used to control it, said Mike Suffredini, the operations manager for the station. The crew is in no danger, he said, and there is enough fuel for the thrusters on board to operate the station for at least six months.

"I'm several failures away from losing control of the vehicle," Suffredini said in a teleconference with reporters yesterday.

But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration does plan to try to fix the glitch, attributed to the failure of a circuit breaker inside the gyroscope. That means that the two astronauts who arrived at the station early Wednesday, American Michael Fincke and Russian Gennady Padalka, will venture outside for a spacewalk to replace the faulty component.

The gyroscope quit on Wednesday, Suffredini said, and the thrusters worked for about 15 minutes to restabilize the station. Station engineers quickly traced the problem to the circuit breaker, he said. There are several spares on board.

Another of the gyroscopes stopped working in 2002, but there is no spare and one can't reach the station until the space shuttle, grounded since the February 2003 Columbia accident, returns to flight.

In addition to the two broken stabilizers, another gyroscope has exhibited problems, but Suffredini said he thinks that's related to the lubrication system and will not pose a serious issue.

The spacewalk to repair the circuit breaker will mean Fincke and Padalka will go outside the station three times in their six-month stay. Suffredini said the repair will probably be performed before the other two walks, set for July 22 and Aug. 25.

After the Columbia accident, the crews on board the station were reduced from three astronauts to two. That means that during a spacewalk, no one is inside the station. NASA astronaut Michael Foale and Russian Alexander Kaleri did the first such spacewalk in February, although they had to come inside early because of a twisted hose inside Kaleri's suit.

Suffredini said station managers decided yesterday morning not to try to perform the spacewalk before Foale and Kaleri leave the station next week to return to Earth. While having the additional crew would offer some benefits - including allowing the station's robotic arm to be used - the risks outweighed the benefits, he said.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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