18 September 2006

On this morning's emergency in the Space Station

by Phil Johnson

ou might have seen the news about a dangerous chemical alarm (turned out to be a potassium hydroxide leak) in the International Space Station today. According to the Associated Press: "NASA declared a spacecraft emergency for only the second time in the eight-year history of the station. The first time was for a false alarm of an ammonia spill. . . Because the station's emergency system was activated, the ventilation system was shut down, but ground operations reactivated it a short time later. Astronauts used a charcoal air-scrubbing device to remove the offensive smell and [Jeff] Williams said the odor 'decreased significantly.'"

About an hour after I heard about the emergency (I saw the news on TV this morning as Darlene and I were getting home from our morning walk), I got an e-mail from Jeff with the title: "Big Fire."

That got my heart going for a minute, but it turns out Jeff was sending me a digital photo of a wildfire he snapped from his orbit over southern California this morning. This is the big fire that has been burning for two weeks just west of the Grace to You offices. It's a spectacular photo:

(I added the county borders and a few landmarks to give perspective. Click on the image for a higher-res copy.)

Jeff quickly sent a follow-up message with the title "All is well on board." He wrote:

I realized that the "subject" line in the previous email might have gotten your attention given the news you might have heard when waking up. The last email was obviously referring to a forest fire.

The emergency we had a board today was one I would rather not experience again but rest assured that all is well and we are safe. The mission will continue as planned and, as of early this morning, our relief is on the way!

If you're following the news with NASA, notice that there's a ton of activity in space today. I wonder how nerve-wracking it is to do space traffic-control when things get this active:
  1. The Soyuz crew that will replace Col. Jeff Williams and Commander Pavel Vinogradov launched successfully from Kazakhstan this morning.
  2. The shuttle crew undocked from the Space Station yesterday and are on their way home.
  3. And then there was the smoke-alarm incident.
  4. Things are very busy for Jeff and his crew right now
. . . and will be for the next ten days until they head home. Please remember to keep Jeff and his family in your prayers. Phil's signature


donsands said...

Thanks for sharing this. Absolutely incredible. I'll be prayin'.

Mike Perrigoue said...

Wow...heart racing is right! Crazy fire photos!

I must say, including all of us in your correspondence with Col. Jeff Williams definitely adds a different perspective to this space station mission. Thanks, Phil! (And thanks to Col. Williams, too!)

Carla Rolfe said...

I heard the news about the emergency yesterday, and I was really hoping you might have some additional info - so I was really glad to see this post.

I'm sure all the families will be really glad to have their space travellers safe at home soon.

philness said...

This is probably a stupid question but what are some reasons why we are in space?

C. T. Lillies said...

Email from space? How cool is that!

Philness how about 'why aren't we further out into space?' Why don't we have a base on Mars? How come we're not mining asteroids yet instead of flinching everytime one gets within a million miles?

We probably wouldn't be sitting here in front of the computer if it wasn't for the space program. No microwave, you teflon--probably a jillion other things.


philness said...


Good point. Since my first commment I had 3 cell phone calls and each one hit a satellite. And telecommunications is my industry. I'm such a bone head.