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Sun, Apr 04, 2004

Another Strange Sound Rattles ISS Crew

Second Time An Odd Crunching Noise Was Heard Aboard The Station

Four months after they were startled by the sound of something metal being crunched, space station astronaut Michael Foale and his Russian counterpart, Alexander Kaleri heard something eerily similar again on Friday. And it sounded like it came from the same general area where the first crunching noise was heard.

"I had the headset on, so I didn't hear it very clearly. But it sounded sort of like a drum. It sounds sort of like a sheet of something being bent," Kaleri told ground controllers.

NASA, however, said all systems appeared to be functioning normally.

Both Kaleri and Foale were supposed to have checked the vicinity where the noise was thought to have originated back in February, during a daring two-man EVA that left the station itself unattended. But Kaleri's spacesuit malfunctioned and cut short the excursion. They didn't have a chance to see if something had struck the outside of the ISS.

But the very fact that the same sort of noise was heard emanating from the same general location indicated to ground controllers that this could be a systems issue rather than space debris impacting the station.

"It's very strange," Russian Mission Control said. "I doubt that it would be a coincidence that you're hearing the same thing coming from the same place."

In the meantime, NASA reports plans for the next crew rotation on the International Space Station are on schedule this week, as the Expedition 8 crew members moved into their final month on orbit and their successors to within weeks of their scheduled launch.

On Thursday, Station managers conducted a Stage Operations Readiness Review and found no constraints to the planned April 19 launch of the ISS Soyuz 8 carrying Expedition 9 Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Mike Fincke, along with European Space Agency astronaut André Kuipers of the Netherlands. Kuipers will be aboard the Station for nine days performing scientific experiments under a commercial contract between ESA and the Federal Space Agency (of Russia) during the handover to the new permanent crew.

Preparations for the Expedition 9 flight will be further evaluated next week during a Flight Readiness Review. Meanwhile, the crew received its final certification for flight from the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, this week.

Aboard the Station, Commander Mike Foale and Flight Engineer Alexander Kaleri successfully completed the initial maintenance and some functional testing of two new Russian Orlan spacesuits delivered in January aboard the most recent Progress supply ship. Those suits replace three older Orlan units on the complex. Padalka and Fincke plant to use them on the first spacewalk of Expedition 9.

Foale also completed an external survey of the Station using cameras on the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Foale was conducting his final proficiency training operating the arm. During the survey, Foale solved a mystery, reporting to Mission Control that a sound he has heard from outside of the Destiny laboratory module was being caused each time he commanded the Lab’s external camera to tilt up and down.

On Friday morning, Kaleri reported another noise to Mission Control in Moscow. He and Foale heard a metallic sound from Zvezda's Instrument Compartment, a sound they said was very similar to a noise they reported on Nov. 26, 2003, coming from the same area. Russian controllers told the crew that the fact that the noise has apparently repeated itself would likely indicate the cause is the operation of a system on the station or some other activity. Russia and U.S. controllers will continue to evaluate the report. All systems on the complex continue to operate normally.

Russian specialists are reviewing plans to replace a cooling fan motor in the Soyuz spacecraft’s descent module. The fan, which stopped functioning during the trip to the Station last October, helps maintain a proper level of humidity inside the Soyuz.

Mission Control completed a successful test of software that will operate the Thermal Rotary Radiator Joints on the Station’s truss. The large rotating joints will be used to position the Station's radiators as they dissipate heat from the complex. Ground controllers ran the check of programs that will automate the positioning of the Station’s radiators as they dissipate heat in the future when the Station's full cooling system is activated.

Foale and Kaleri took time to discuss the progress of their mission with students twice during the week. The crew answered questions from a group of Houston-area middle school students affiliated with the Aerospace Academy for Engineering and Teacher Education. They also demonstrated how some common tools, such as a wrench and hammer, function in space during a talk with elementary school students from the Center for Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio.



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