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Science Highlight: Science Week...and Lessons Learned
NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker working in the Destiny laboratory on the International Space Station NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker working in the Destiny laboratory on the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA
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We have all been there: a flat tire on the way to work, a power outage that puts the refrigerator on the blink. Life simply has a way of throwing a wrench into the works; a rule that applies even in space. Saturday, July 31, an International Space Station (ISS) system pump failed on orbit. This refocused activities to safety and repairs, slowing ISS research almost 3 weeks and delaying more than 60 hours of planned science. The crew performed a series of three Extravehicular Activities (EVAs), while ground teams scrambled to provide support and rescheduling.

"After the first EVA, [more EVAs were] added and the payloads had to be replanned yet again. We began calling it the plan to replan the replan," commented Allyson Thorn, Lead Increment Scientist. "The whole Increment Payloads Team put in a good effort to get back on track."

Due to the combined work of all parties, science loss was limited to some external experiments, including MAXI and SEDA-AP, which had to be powered off until pump recovery.

With the new pump now operational, the ISS Flight Director unofficially declared August 23 to 29 as "Science Week." The crew worked hard to catch up on data takes that were deferred, especially in human research studies. These studies require periodic observation of changes in the human body over time in space. The new schedule shifted hours from usual systems and maintenance tasks to research. During Science Week, astronauts poised to set an on-orbit record by working 55 hours (28 hours/week is nominal for Increment 23/24) devoted to science.

Allyson Thorn remarked, "The team is doing the best it can to fit in the remaining high priority payloads and minimize the "rollover" to Increment 25/26 . . . all of our [NASA, international partner, and stakeholder] involvement with ISS is with the knowledge that we are working on the largest, most complex orbiting laboratory ever built."

ISS work is an evolution of efficiencies and continual lessons learned. To make Science Week successful, the crew worked in all three ISS major labs on projects for NASA, ESA, JAXA, and CSA. Just like life on Earth, the ISS crew learned to roll with the punches, working together to get the job done.

Also check out Astronaut Shannon Walker's blog, In Orbit, for a personal perspective on recent EVAs and ISS schedule impacts.
by Jessica Nimon
NASA's Johnson Space Center