Success filled day for STS-117’s EVA-3

by Chris Bergin

Spacewalkers James Reilly and Danny Olivas have completed a superb effort on orbit, after they carried out the repair to the protruding blanket on the port OMS Pod, installation of an external hydrogen vent valve on the Destiny Laboratory for the new Oxygen Generation System (OGS), and retracted the P6/2B solar array.

During the EVA, the Russians added to the positive day by declaring they were having some success in returning their computers to functionality.

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The primary objective of today’s EVA-3 was the unscheduled effort to push back the area of blanket that exposing the graphite expoxy shell beneath. This blanket has poked out during aerodynamic forces during the June 8 ride uphill that kicked off STS-117.

This repair was carried out by Olivas, in a EVA that was reminiscent of Steve Robinson’s unscheduled spacewalk to remove two protruding gap fillers from the underbelly of Discovery during STS-114. While Robinson travelled where no spacewalker had ventured before on the end of the Stations robotic arm, Olivas’ unique adventure saw him eased across the length of Atlantis’ cargo bay to the aft of the vehicle.

Once there, Olivas surveyed the ‘work site’ by taking photography, whilst controllers on the ground followed his every ‘step’ via his helmetcam, along with viewers from around the world, as network news channels tuned into NASA TV coverage to follow Olivas’ initial progress in ensuring Atlantis was in the preferred configuration for the flight home next week.

Prodding his fingers almost rudely into Atlantis’ soft TPS (Thermal Protection System) blanket, Olivas assessed the task in front of him, before – in the matter of seconds – pushing the material back into its original place next to the tiles that run alongside the boundary of the blanket on the OMS Pod.

Utilizing the tools that were selected by NASA technicians and engineers on the ground, Olivas used a surgical stapler to punch in 12 staples over the joint between the offending and neighbouring blanket, adding another 18 staples along the top to secure it into place.

Finishing the job involved placing several TPS pins, pushed through the blanket to secure against the tiles.

This process was the work of many hundreds of technicians who worked on not only the methodology of the procedure Olivas carried out, but also the safety margins – thermal and aerodynamic – that Atlantis can expect with this newly repaired area of the orbiter during re-entry. Around 35 presentations – available to download on L2 – showed the Herculean effort that was placed into what was just a couple of inches of out-of-place blanket.

However, that was but one of three tasks to be carried out during EVA-3, a dynamic spacewalk – lasting a near record 7 hours 58 minutes – that saw Reilly carrying out the task of installing the external hydrogen vent valve on the Destiny Laboratory for the new Oxygen Generation System (OGS). Olivas’ colleague carried out the task almost in silence, so as not to disturb the delicate operation being undertaken by his fellow spacewalker far away on the end of Atlantis’ robotic arm.

The only time that Reilly required assistance was timely, as a MMOD panel installation proved to be troublesome. That came as Olivas finished up his OMS Pod repair task, allowing him to assist Reilly by securing the panel in place with tethers.

With a short amount of time to spare, the spacewalk duo headed to the P6 truss, where the 2B solar array panel awaited them. Retracted just over half way, the pair utilized lessons learned – and tools that proved to be useful – from STS-116 retraction effort last December, with Reilly ‘fluffing’ the array blanket folds from his vantage point on the end of the Station’s robotic arm, assisted by Olivas next to the blanket box.

Whilst this was going on, there was a level of success in the Russian section of the ISS, as Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov followed a procedure that was drawn up by Russian technicians on the ground. This involved utilizing a jumper cable to bypass a secondary power supply switch inside each of the failed German built computers that the Russians have onboard station.

‘Our Russian colleagues were busy uplinking a procedure to the crew in an attempt to bypass a sensitive circuit, in order to see if we could prevent this constant re-booting that the computers were going through,’ noted ISS manager Mike Suffredini. ‘They removed the connector on the back and added a very simply shunt which allowed them to bypass the circuitry and allow the computers to come on.

‘They went to activate the four (out of the six) that they thought were all good, and all four of the computers came up.’

Following some time to monitor the computer were in a stable configuration, Yurchikhin powered them down to carry out a process of taping up the shunt so as to ensure it stayed in place.

Russian controllers activated all three lanes of computers, which saw a good level of success, as only one lane ‘failed hard’ as the other two activated as normal, allowing for two lanes of command-and-control, along with guidance and navigation.

Troubleshooting remains, alongside the potential for the Russians to send up replacement computers and spares on an advanced launch date for the next Progress resupply ship. Should the computers remain active, a major step forward will have occurred, although NASA are still aiding the Russians with the investigation into the exact cause of the computer failures.

That failure saw plans approved to have the option of Atlantis stay at the ISS for an extra day, a day extension to the mission which would tighten her options for returning home.

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Normally, at the end of the mission, orbiters have two days of attempts at three US landing sites (KSC, Edwards and White Sands). What is being planned as a contingency was discussed by NASA managers that saw the setting up of a team ‘for Alternate Entry Options’ – as noted in memos acquired by this site’s L2 section.

This could – though is yet to be clarified – see foreign landing site opportunities being made available for Atlantis, should weather wave offs or other unforeseen circumstances call for it. Everything will depend on if Atlantis is still required to remain docked to the station that extra day.

‘We have not stopped the work we have started,’ added Suffredini. ‘We will continue to work on logistics if we’d like our shuttle friends to stay a little longer.’

A decision will be taken this weekend on if Atlantis will be required to stay docked to the ISS for the one day extension.

Flight Day 9 will be mainly used to prepare for the fourth and final EVA, which is to be carried out on Sunday.

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