Doug Wheelock Update

Doug’s life in space got a lot more interesting this past week when the ammonia pump broke.  From the story that follows, it looks like they better fix it quick.

Doug and his fellow astronaut are now going to take a couple walks in space to do just that.  This setback comes just weeks after the station had a near miss with the resupply ship – it went flying out of control by the space station.  Mission control was able to get it docked the next day.


Down to the Wire for Station Repair Spacewalks NASA)

NASA astronauts and engineers are refining plans for two spacewalks by astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson to replace a large ammonia pump module that shut down Saturday, knocking out one of the International Space Station's two cooling loops.

The astronauts hope to carry out the first spacewalk Friday morning, starting at 6:55 a.m. EDT, and a second excursion Monday to finish the job, one of the so-called "big 14" on a list of critical components that require spacewalk repair if problems crop up.

NASA managers initially targeted Thursday for the first spacewalk and Sunday for the second, but decided late Monday they needed more time to review procedures.

"This is an anomaly we knew someday would happen," said space station Program Manager Mike Suffredini. "It's an anomaly we have trained for; it's an anomaly we have planned for."

With four spare pump modules on board the station, "we're in a good position to go solve this problem," he said. "It is a significant failure, though, in terms of systems on board ISS, so it's one we need to go after."

The shutdown of coolant loop A forced the station crew, working with flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center, to quickly power down a variety of critical systems to prevent overheating, including a communications channel, two of four stabilizing gyroscopes, a GPS navigation sensor and several computer control boxes and heaters.

Engineers attempted to restart the pump early Sunday and "the data suggests the motor and impeller are not frozen," Suffredini said. "In fact, the motor did start to pump some of the ammonia when we tried to start it the second time."

"Finding a "Short" in the System

But in a repeat of the Saturday malfunction, a circuit breaker tripped within a few moments "so this tells us there's a short somewhere in the power feed to the motor between the controller and the motor."

The pump module was installed and electrically activated in 2002. The pump was not turned on for active cooling until late 2006. Based on ground testing, the "mean time between failures" was calculated to be around 100,000 hours. The pump in question failed earlier than that, after about 80,000 hours of combined electrical and mechanical operation.

Suffredini said engineers hope to get the faulty unit back for a detailed failure analysis, but there is no room on the next two shuttle flights, the final two missions on NASA's manifest. There is congressional support for an additional flight next June, however, and if that mission is approved, Suffredini said room would be available to bring the old pump home.

In any case, flight controllers analyzed heat loads after Sunday's restart attempt and were able to revive one of the shut-down gyros. Other components were switched to coolant loop B and officials said the six-member crew – three American astronauts and three Russian cosmonauts – was never in any danger.

But the coolant loops, which circulate ammonia through huge radiators to dissipate the heat generated by the station's electronics, are critical to lab operations. With one loop out of action, the station is one failure away from a major shutdown that would be much more difficult to resolve.

As a result, NASA managers decided Sunday to defer more routine tasks in an already planned spacewalk Thursday and to proceed instead with a pump module changeout, a job that will require two spacewalks to complete.

The loop A pump module is mounted on the forward face of the station's main power truss, just above and to the right of the Destiny laboratory module, in the starboard 3, or S3, truss segment. Its loop B counterpart is mounted to the left of Destiny in the port 3 truss segment.

The Boeing-built 780-pound pump modules measure 5-and-a-half feet long, 4 feet wide and 3 feet high. It is too large to fit aboard European or Russian unmanned cargo craft.

With only two, or possibly three, flights left on NASA's shuttle manifest, the agency been launching as much in the way of spare parts and components as possible on recent flights as a hedge against failures after the shuttle stops flying.

Four spare ammonia pump modules already are stored aboard the space station. One is mounted on External Storage Platform No. 2 by the Quest airlock on the right-side of the station, about 30 feet or so from the failed unit in the S3 truss segment. That is the pump that will replace the one that malfunctioned.

A second pump module is mounted on ESP No. 3, attached to the upper side of the port three power truss segment on the left side of the station. A third is attached to a logistics carrier on the lower side of the P3 truss segment and the fourth is attached to a carrier on the upper side of the starboard 3 truss.

Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson were preparing to carry out a spacewalk Thursday to mount a robot arm mounting fixture on the Russian Zarya module and to prepare NASA's central Unity module for attachment of a storage compartment during a shuttle flight in November.

They practiced an ammonia pump swap out during a September 2009 training run. Astronauts at the Johnson Space Center are now practicing the swap out in the huge swimming pool NASA uses to simulate weightlessness to refine those procedures and develop a reliable timeline.

Ready for Space Walk

That information will be radioed to Caldwell Dyson and Wheelock for review on the space station over the next two days.

"They're in great spirits, they're ready to do this EVA," Suffredini said. "This is one of the 'big 14' EVAs, which to date we haven't had to do yet. The big 14 refers to some of the major (components) an increment crew might have to do without the shuttle vehicle there.

"We don't train them all," he said. "The crews train generically for maintenance and then train for some of the big 14. This particular one, the crew did train for, so they have some familiarity with the task being asked of them."

Overall, he said, "we're actually in great shape. To have the EVA already planned (for this Thursday), that is significant because there's quite a bit of work to configure the airlock, get everything set up for the crew to use the suits."

Most of that work had already been done in preparation for the previously planned spacewalk and "that was really a blessing in terms of the time to get to this job." Even so, spacewalk planners needed more time to refine procedures for the pump replacement EVA, pushing the first excursion to no earlier than Friday.

The current plan calls for the astronauts to first remove the failed pump module and temporarily mount it on an external storage fixture. A "jumper box" will be attached to two of the ammonia lines, preventing possible pressure problems as coolant in the lines expands.

The pump module "is a difficult box to maneuver with, it's a big, unwieldy object," said space station Flight Director Courtenay McMillan. "So maneuvering it around and handing it off between crew members if that needs to be done, that could take some time. None of that part of it is technically difficult, but it's just very time consuming and takes a lot of focus."

The new pump then can be removed from ESP-2 and bolted into place on the S3 truss segment. During a second spacewalk, Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson will make the required electrical connections, disconnect the jumper box and attach the ammonia lines.

Engineers are still thrashing out the details. With a single working coolant loop, the electronics used to run and operate station's robot arm cannot be allowed to overheat. Its not yet clear whether the arm can be used to move a spacewalker, the spare pump module, both or neither.

Another complication is managing the station's solar arrays. The station and its huge arrays can generate a charge as the lab moves through the tenuous upper atmosphere at 5 miles per second and two devices, called plasma contactor units, operate during spacewalks to minimize the shock hard to the spacewalkers.

With the failure of coolant loop A, one of those devices is out of action. Under current flight rules, that would require all but two of the station's solar arrays to be parked and locked in a favorable orientation, unable to track the sun, during the spacewalk. If that rule remains in play, the astronauts could be faced with additional powerdowns during the spacewalk.

Finally, planners will have to make sure Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson have enough air and power for possible ammonia contamination "bake out" procedures at the end of the spacewalk. Engineers plan to vent the ammonia lines leading to the pump module on Tuesday, but even residual ammonia poses a risk if it is brought back into the station on a contaminated spacesuit.

As a result, the astronauts must have enough time available at the end of their planned work to let any trace amounts of ammonia bake out, or sublimate, before re-entering the space station.

"Since the external loop uses ammonia as the cooling fluid, all the lines are pressurized with ammonia and have to be released by the crew during the EVA," McMillan said. "We've done this before with different parts of the thermal system. The crew is very well trained on how to do decontamination if they get ammonia on them during the procedures. But it presents a timeline challenge to make sure we have enough room in the timeline to account for that."

An Update on Lara

As some of you may know, Lara Howard York is battling stage IV terminal Brain Cancer.  Her notes to many of you who have written her have been inspiring.  One note that was shared with Fizzerman was particularly moving:

“Five weeks ago I was sailing around the world and now I have a stage IV terminal brain cancer. I am thrilled with the outcome of my surgery which appears to be successful and looks like it will give me an opportunity for a round of Chemo and radiation….
Going forward, it is obvious that the notes of support from friends and family are really going to help.  I  didn't believe the doctor initially when he said that my "support  group" was medically important but I'm finding that he was smarter than I thought.  The fact that  you took time to send me a note of  encouragement is touching and deeply appreciated.  I am grateful for the grip of your hand today.”

Below is a note from Bonnie highlighting an initiative she and Jill Maurer are honchoing to make Lara’s Garden a spectacular place for her to enjoy life.



Bonnie and Jill’s Effort:

Dear Friends of Lara,
As promised, Jill and I have come up with a plan for Lara.  We have a lot going for us…clarity with regards to what the family needs, people on the ground in Scottsdale willing to help, and all of your anticipated generosity.
Here is the background and the plan.  (OPORD, if you will…and I will admit I am rusty at that stuff but here goes)
Lara has many friends who want to help
Very few people know what they can do to help
Lara's friends want to make her remaining days, and those of her family, easier and happier
Lara is currently in the hospital with no known date of release, undergoing physical therapy etc.
Lara will return home at some point and immediately begin chemo and radiation and various other therapies
Lara's family (Jim et al) is dealing with many things regarding Lara's care
Lara loves flowers
Lara lives in a gated community and they are are often not home, so no one can sign for delivered flowers and they will die in the heat  if left outside
Even if we could all send flowers, we want to avoid a 'funeral parlor' feel and smell to the home
The York home has a back patio area that has a raised bed, which now has been planted with flowers.
That back patio is in need of benches, trellises, etc to make it truly a place for Lara to sit and enjoy it
The family has no time to tend to housekeeping duties
We have neighbors standing by at the ready. 
One of whom (John, a retired firefighter and all around great friend) has offered to personally buy small bouquets of flowers from Trader Joe's WEEKLY and place them strategically throughout the house.  (He has the key to the house and Lara loves him…and his wife has amazing taste and decorum).
John and Annamaria (his wife) have arranged for a housekeeper every two weeks to do light housekeeping.
I have arranged for my friend Laura, who works at Lowes in Scottsdale, to plan, design and oversee a patio overhaul (NOT heavy renovation…just to make it nice for Lara to sit in and enjoy) which will begin immediately, turning her garden area into a tranqul refuge.
I will open an account at the bank tomorrow and will manage all funds, releasing payment to John and Laura (my Lowes contact) when needed.  It will be under my name and also under the name 'Lara's Garden'.
I will begin accepting donations to this fund immediately.  You can send checks to me at 50 Cedar Lane, Rhinebeck NY 12572.  Please use 'Elizabeth Schweppe' or 'Lara's Garden' for the payee.  (I sincerely promise NOT to mismanage the funds, and will provide upon request all transaction information.  I DO NOT intend to misuse the funds in any way.  I have another source for income…seriously!!)
Any monies left over upon completion of the patio project, housekeeping or flower arrangement needs, will be summarily donated to GrayMatters Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping those afflicted with brain tumors.
Please email me if you have any questions or comments.  This is important…this is the real deal.  I will not beg…but I think you know where I'm coming from.  You all have asked what you can do to help, and I am telling you what you can do!!!  We have a chance to make our friend’s remaining days on this earth a little better, a little more beautiful.  
GRIP HANDS…and please consider contributing. 


A message from Doug Wheelock




“Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”


Gillespie Magee – ‘High Flight’






It’s launch day, and there is a reassuring peace over the steppe in the cool of the morning.  Went for a run along the Syr Darya river and watched the sun rise over the barren landscape.  My next sunrise will be in Earth orbit, so I took a little extra time this morning to enjoy the breeze and the smell of the sage and the river.  I know that the sweet smell of the Earth is something that I am going to really miss.  When I returned from my 15-day Space Shuttle mission in November 2007, the most dramatic experience for me was the moment the hatch opened on the runway at Kennedy Space Center, in the middle of the wildlife sanctuary.  I had only been away from the planet for 15 days, and realized how much I take for granted…but not this morning.  I stood by the river for a while watching the desert awaken, and thought that tomorrow morning maybe I will try to find this place to see what it looks like from space.  The photo above is a rare glimpse of the Soyuz rocket from inside the flame trench.  Going to get a little toasty at this spot in just a few short hours when we light the fire! 


We had our final meeting with the ‘Government Commission’ last evening.  Mostly formality, but a chance to uphold tradition and officially sign over the rocket to the crew.  A panel of officials interacted with our instructors, evaluators, and the leadership of each sub-system on the vehicle to review the readiness of the crew and the spacecraft.  We sat behind glass in an adjoining room to maintain our health-stabilization protocol and listened intently as the past 2 years of our training were analyzed and discussed.  Each crewmember was asked to stand and speak.  This is the culmination of countless hours of work, time spent away from home, late nights, and the internalization of the art and science of space flight…boiled down into about 15 seconds of the best Russian you can muster up…I just said thanks, and let the Commission know how proud a moment in history this is, that just 20 years ago, this event would have been in the realm of the impossible.  It was a celebration of achievement it space, and a charge for us to continue to carry the torch of passion for exploration and discovery.  I’ll have to admit that I felt a little ‘weak in the knees’, since it was such a profound experience.  As during my back-up assignment last December, I wanted to say something really profound, but I just stuck with the ‘Three Be’s’ :  Be Bold – Be Brief – and Be Seated.


Following the Commission, we had a crew press conference, and then watched the old Russian movie “The White Sun of the Desert”, as is tradition for all Soyuz flight crews to watch together, the night before the launch.  “The White Sun of the Desert” is quite possibly the most popular and beloved Russian movie of all time.  There are many quotable ‘one-liners’ in the movie that have become part of everyday conversational Russian.  It is a lot of fun to watch with native Russians, it is part of their culture…and not a bad movie either.  The movie really has nothing to do with space, it just happened that about 20 years ago, during the prosperous years of the Russian Mir Space Station and frequent Soyuz launches, the Cosmonaut Hotel (which is still a bit Spartan) was able to acquire its first video cassette tape player/recorder.  For this place, it was truly a marvel of technological achievement at the time, and the Cosmonauts here were thrilled with the notion of maybe having ‘movie night’ while in quarantine.  As the story goes, everyone went on a search for a movie to watch…they searched high and low, inside the gates, and outside in the village (which was then called ‘Leninsk’).  In all of Leninsk, where you could have probably counted the total number of televisions on one hand…there was only one video cassette tape movie to be found.  It was “The White Sun of the Desert”…and a new tradition was born.


The feeling in the air here this morning is glorious!  We are ready and excited about the coming hours and the moment when we will light up the starry night.  We have had a great time these past couple of days laughing together and talking about time being like sand in an hourglass.  It is incredible to watch these final hours of preparation, and amazing to see before your eyes the triumph of ideas, vision, and the thirst for knowledge and understanding over worn out ideology and political / cultural differences.  A Russian Cosmonaut, and two U.S. Astronauts, launching together as a crew, on a Russian rocket to the International Space Station…I wonder how many people, 50 years ago, when NASA first came into existence, would have believed this would ever be possible.  Only the real dreamers, I am sure.


Only about 9 hours now until launch, and I am getting that very same feeling that I had just prior to suit-up for my mission on the Space Shuttle Discovery.  It’s not really fear, or even anxiety at this point, just a heightened sense of awareness.  Getting in the zone, and feeling comfortable so far.  Our ride is standing ready at the launch pad.  The rocket is fueled and all of the pad interface checks are complete.  All systems are ‘Go’.  Thought I would share some photos of the rocket making its way to the pad.  This is an incredible sight. 









Raising the rocket into position:





“One sweet ride”…standing proudly on the launch pad…in the spectacular sunrise…the same spot where ‘Sputnik’ once stood waiting and Yuri Gagarin’s heart raced at the advent of the space age.  Doesn’t Old Glory look beautiful in the rising sun?








Time to Fly!!!







Launch viewing information:


You may view the Soyuz TMA-19 launch on the Web at:

For more information, visit:



Dedicated to my Dad…the one man that never stopped believing in me.  Thanks, Dad.  I love you, and you will be in my every thought as we light up the night! 



“The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky displays His handiwork!”  Psalm 19:1



Grace and Peace…