ESA Mission Director Roland Luettgens gives an update of the latest activities and tells us about the challenges of working in space. We had a very busy week last week because sometimes things do not work out as planned. We had planned a long-awaited activity for Luca: installing our new microscope inside the Biolab laboratory. “We have worked for more than two years to get this new microscope built and sent to the International Space Station”, explains ESA Mission Director Roland Luettgens.
Luca installed the microscope last week and as expected we needed to perform a check afterwards. Luca called and wanted to know the results. “No joy” was the bad news we reported back to him. The microscope would not switch on. These are problems we don’t want to have, because we cannot just bring a failed item back for repair, so we need to trouble-shoot the problem from the ground. All engineers were called in to assess the situation and come back with ideas on how to fix it. In orbit, we cannot work as we would on the ground because we don’t always have spare parts, and we need to be very careful not to damage any other parts. It took a couple of days to build a recovery strategy and with the help of Luca and the specialist on ground, we fixed the problem. The problem was related to certain electrical connections that were not properly in place because some screws did not engage properly. “Things do not work the same when there is no gravity”, says the ESA Mission Director. But even though we know this, we never know quite what we are dealing with when problems crop up. The black item in Luca’s hand in this picture is actually a vacuum cleaner. We use this vacuum cleaner to remove small items: in this instance there were some small metal shavings from a screw that needed to be removed. These little objects can develop into something quite dangerous: not only can the astronaut be harmed by inhaling those small pieces, they can also float all over the Space Station and get stuck in fans or detectors. It’s not like on the ground where the pieces would just fall on the floor; in space they float and travel around, so we need to be very careful. The microscope problem kept us busy until Friday. Thanks to Luca and all the engineers on ground, we were able to fix it and resume preparations of the Biolab Laboratory for the experiments scheduled for later this year. HTV4
The crew has also been preparing for the arrival of the Japanese HTV4, which was launched on Saturday 3 August. The HTV4 is another resupply ship that carries more than 2400 kg of items to the International Space Station. About 600 kg of those are things for the crew, including some fresh fruit and a small humanoid robot, known as Kirobo. The rest are new experiments, items for repairs, and what we call ‘resupply’. The HTV4 is planned to arrive at the Station on 9 August, where it will be captured by the astronauts using the robotics arm. The astronauts will then berth the HTV4 to the Station.