Stories tagged International Space Station


International Space Station: To see a really big version of this click on the word NASA (in red).
International Space Station: To see a really big version of this click on the word NASA (in red).Courtesy NASA

Two space vehicles joined Dec. 1998

The Russian-built Zarya module and the U.S.-built Node 1, also called Unity, were connected together ten years ago. Thus began one of the greatest international, technological, political, and engineering achievements in human history.

Ten years later, the station's mass has expanded to more than 627,000 pounds, and its interior volume is more than 25,000 cubic feet, comparable to the size of a five-bedroom house. Since Zarya's launch, there have been 29 additional construction flights to the station: 27 aboard the space shuttle and two additional Russian launches. NASA

Learn more about the space station's past and future

Future launch dates and additions
Computer rendering of future ISS assembly
International Space Station assembly sequence and componant descriptions
Latest news from NASA International Space Station webpage


You can't hear her: But I think I can see the gold foil blistering off of her face guard.
You can't hear her: But I think I can see the gold foil blistering off of her face guard.Courtesy NASA
***Apparently MDR already wrote this post a few days ago. Either he and I are just on the same wavelength here, or I totally copied him without realizing it. Er... oops.***

In space, no one can hear you say G%#@&^$ [email protected]&%&!#^@&!

Remember the modifications planned for the International Space Station that would allow resident astronauts to drink their own pee (among other things)? Well, early this week, visiting astronauts from the space shuttle Endeavor were actually doing that work (among other work) on the ISS. Things went pretty smoothly, over all, except that one of the astronauts dropped her tools. Outside of the station. In space.


Normally this isn’t a big deal, of course. It is estimated that working people across the country spend as much as 30% of their time dropping tools of one variety or another. (It’s only 9:40, and I’ve already dropped a video camera, a laptop computer, and my toothbrush—all in the toilet! How did that happen?) In space, however, things are a little different. It’s not exactly like a Loony Toons situation, where the space tools would fall to Earth in a deadly rain of super-sonic, flaming wrenches—the ISS is in orbit, and so the dropped tools stayed in orbit. That means that the astronaut’s two grease guns, putty knife, and briefcase-sized tool bag have all become space junk.
What happens when space junk hits something?: This happens. This is the "energy flash" from a 17,000 mph projectile hitting  solid surface. This test was performed by NASA to simulate what happens when a piece of space junk hits a spacecraft in orbit.
What happens when space junk hits something?: This happens. This is the "energy flash" from a 17,000 mph projectile hitting solid surface. This test was performed by NASA to simulate what happens when a piece of space junk hits a spacecraft in orbit.Courtesy NASA

“Space junk” is a term for the growing cloud of man-made debris orbiting our planet—everything from flecks of shuttle paint, to spent rocket stages, to grease guns, putty knives, and tool bags. Items like these may sound pretty innocuous, but a grease gun traveling at a few thousand miles an hour is really dangerous. Space debris is so dangerous, in fact, that the ISS is now armored to help protect it from orbiting junk, and that the a planned launch of the space shuttle Atlantis in October, 2008, had a 1 in 185 chance of “catastrophic impact” with debris.


NASA technicians are scrambling to develop new methods of scrubbing the swearwords out of the astronaut’s space suit, but they remain cautiously optimistic that the equipment will eventually be reusable.


Woman contemplates a future of urine drinking: As she sips her apple juice.
Woman contemplates a future of urine drinking: As she sips her apple juice.Courtesy vcalzone
Hey, hey, don’t get too excited, Buzzketeers. We’ve been drinking our own pee for a long time. Way back in the past, we drank it for ceremonial purposes. And back in the present we drank it all the time! We drank it to stay alive, we drank it to be on TV (we loved TV back then, didn’t we?), and sometimes we drank it just because we were into that sort of thing.

But here in the future, we’ve really perfected drinking pee. And not just in the Kevin Costner/Waterworld way—that method requires gravity and science fiction, and we’ve figured out how to do it without gravity, with science.

The obvious application here is astronauts. As intriguing as zero gravity and space travel might sound initially, the fact remains that astronauts are trapped in a relatively tiny capsule for great lengths of time with little to occupy their time beyond telling dirty jokes and drinking their own urine. Unfortunately, there are only so many dirty jokes (although mixing and matching punch lines can extend things), and, as wikipedia’s entry on urophagia reminds us, you can only drink your own wiz so many times before problems arise. (Although, as I understand it, the problem with repeatedly drinking pee isn’t that you end up drinking super-pee, but that you get dehydrated, and your body has to reabsorb the toxins from the urine.)

With this new development in urophage tech, however, it looks like astronauts will be able to while away mission hours drinking pee to their hearts’ content.

Now, it should at least be mentioned that the aim of technology here is to turn the pee into something called “water,” and to then drink it. But the principle remains the same. Existing urine-recycling systems rely on gravity, but, again, that’s not an option for astronauts. The new system, soon to be installed on the International Space Station, will take urine, along with water from hand washing, tooth brushing, showering, and space suit sweat, and extract free gas and solid materials from the fluid, before removing remaining contaminants with “a high-temperature chemical reaction.” The result, according to one astronaut, can be “purer than what you drink here on Earth.”

That, ma’am, sounds like a challenge.

Potential efforts to defeat the system through dietary or medical methods aside, the water reclamation process makes a lot of sense. Previously, urine was vented into space, and more water needed to be delivered to the space station. This process should cut about 15,000 pounds from the amount of water and consumables that need to be brought to the station each year, and with the cost of shipping each pint of fresh water into space hovering around $10,000, the savings are nothing to sneeze at. (Considering that “a pint’s a pound the world around,” the system should save something like $150,000,000 a year, if the cost is actually as simple as those figures.)

And no doubt it’ll keep the astronauts happy.

Have you heard about the problem on the International Space Station? The only toilet on board is plugged and astronauts have to come up with alternative ways of relieving themselves. You can read more about it right here.

Would this make you less likely to want to join a space exploration crew on the International Space Station? On its next mission, space shuttle Endeavor will be delivering equipment that NASA has developed that will recycle astronauts' eliminations -- more specifically urine -- into drinking water. With crews of the space station growing from three to six people in the near future, the technology is needed to keep up with the water demands for a larger crew. You can get all the details here from USA Today.


Dextre robot addition to ISS
Dextre robot addition to ISSCourtesy Canadian Space Agency

STS-123's 16 day mission

The space shuttle Endeavour's STS-123 crew is on track for a March 11 launch to the space station for a marathon construction flight expected to last about 16 days. The busy construction flight will include five spacewalks to assemble the Canadian Space Agency's two-armed robot Dextre, install the first segment of Japan's massive Kibo laboratory, test a shuttle heat shield repair method and deliver spare parts to the ISS. Europe's maiden ISS cargo ship Jules Verne will hover nearby, waiting to deliver its load of cargo.

Japan will add components to the ISS

Japanese astronaut Takao Doi will help deliver the storage room for his country's Kibo laboratory to the ISS for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Japan's Kibo facility consists of a storage pod, a massive pressurized laboratory and an external platform equipped with its own robotic arm.

Canadian Space Agency will assemble a huge robot

Putting together Dextre, a Canadian robot, will be one of the main jobs for the seven Endeavour astronauts. Standing 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide, Dextre has two 7 jointed arms that are each 11 feet long.

Repairing heat shield tiles

When the space shuttle Atlantis flies to repair the Hubble Space Telescope in August, any damage to its space tiles will need to be repaired in space. Waiting for rescue at the space station will not be an option. A practice run of such a repair will be carried out on this mission.

Learn more - 114 page info packet

For a really complete information package describing the STS-123 mission in detail you might check out this 114 page press release (4.4MB, pdf).


The crew of STS-120: Image courtesy NASA.
The crew of STS-120: Image courtesy NASA.
NASA space shuttle mission STS-120 this October will be brining more to the International Space Station (ISS) than the Harmony module, which will provide attachment points for European and Japanese laboratory modules. In addition, it will bring the original prop lightsaber from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The prop is being flown to the ISS to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars franchise, which began with 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

As both a Star Wars nut and a fan of most things space related, I read this story with mixed feelings. Is this more a PR opportunity for Star Wars or NASA? Star Wars can almost do no wrong in my mind (except possibly with Jar-Jar Binks) and I wonder if this story, while giving props to Star Wars, isn’t really more of a boost to NASA for being associated with something cool like Star Wars. Personally, I think a lot of stuff NASA does is cool but I know a lot of people who could care less about NASA and space in general (I call them “space haters”).

And, hey, its something fun. I’ve read a few blogs that are accusing NASA of wasting funds on this, but I doubt this cost NASA much in terms of money, and probably has exposed them in a fun and positive light. I’m all for it.

The cost of flying to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spaceship has increased from $25 million earlier this year to $30 million. Trips planned in 2008 and 2009 will cost $40 million. Five space tourists have paid $20 million to $25 million to visit the space station via the Soyuz vehicles through trips arranged by Space Adventures. The company announced Wednesday that two more Soyuz seats have been purchased for tourists to fly in 2008 and 2009.


Live video from space

Space shuttle detaches from ISS
Space shuttle detaches from ISS
I have been watching NASA TV which is broadcast live via the internet from the International Space Station and the space shuttle, Atlantis. Atlantis detatched from the ISS last night and is now preparing for its landing tomorrow. On board is Suni Williams, who is the new record holder for a long-duration single spaceflight for a woman.

Failure of two ISS computers added tension.

When two computers which controlled life support and space station positioning failed at the same time, the ten astronauts needed to either fix them or abandon the space station. Internation Space Station, June 2007
Internation Space Station, June 2007
An out of position thermal blanket also need to be repaired before landing. In addition to emergencies, the crew installed the Starboard 3 and 4 (S3/S4) truss segment and conducted four spacewalks to activate the S3/S4 and assist in the retraction of solar array on the Port 6 truss. These large structures may have been what caused the computer glitches.

You can watch, too.

If you have medium high speed internet (mine is 1.5mbps) you can see live video from space. Last night I saw that the Atlantis was passing over the Great Lakes just after sunset so I ran outside to see if I could see them (it wasn't dark enough). Both the Atlantis and the space station will be visible tonight as they pass overhead. The NASA TV launch page is here. I recommend the Windows Media viewer which allows full screen viewing.