Image: International space station
AP file
This picture of the international space station was taken from the shuttle Endeavour in December 2000. An internal audit notes that NASA has failed to maintain a complete set of blueprints of space station equipment.
By Aerospace Writer
updated 2/27/2004 5:23:12 PM ET 2004-02-27T22:23:12

NASA is doing a poor job keeping track of breakdowns and other problems aboard the international space station, an internal audit released Friday found.

The post-Columbia safety review also found that the space agency has failed to maintain a complete set of blueprints of space station equipment, and that many documents, agreements and instructions are outdated and filled with inconsistencies.

Soon after Columbia was destroyed last February, NASA’s space station program began examining its own operations to identify safety risks. This is the second such report issued on the space station.

The 172-page report offered no examples of any breakdowns or other problems that are not being adequately tracked. But it said that NASA analysis of trends is seriously lacking, with inadequately trained personnel.

NASA was criticized after the Columbia accident for not keeping better track of recurring problems, such as foam breaking off and hitting the shuttles on liftoff.

The audit found shortcomings in the computer database that is supposed to contain electronic drawings of all space station parts. Some drawings were missing; others were on a backlog of items waiting to be entered into the system.

Spacesuit malfunction reviewed
NASA released the report a day after a spacesuit malfunction forced an early end to the first spacewalk to be conducted outside the orbiting outpost without anyone inside overseeing the operation. A crimped cooling line caused cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri’s spacesuit to overheat.

Nevertheless, NASA said it considered the spacewalk a success. It proved a two-person crew can safely conduct a spacewalk while leaving the station unattended, said Mike Suffredini, station operations manager.

The Russian spacesuits worn by Kaleri and astronaut Michael Foale are old and will not be used again, Suffredini said. It is uncertain how the cooling tube in Kaleri’s suit became bent; he may have twisted it while putting on the outfit.

Kaleri’s helmet became wet with condensation, but he managed to get back inside before it fogged up — “something we want to stay away from at all costs” during a spacewalk, Suffredini said.

Suffredini said he did not know whether a third crew member could have prevented the problem by helping the spacewalkers get into their bulky suits. The space station normally has three crew members but is limited to two until shuttle flights resume next year.

Russian space officials indicated Friday that the crewmen accomplished 75 percent of their objectives, a higher estimate than the 50 percent cited Thursday night. Suffredini noted, however, that the spacewalkers did not get to inspect the area where a mysterious metallic sound was heard last November.

Better inspections needed
The latest station safety report stressed the need to improve inspections of the outside of the spacecraft.

Space station cameras can check a significant portion of the exterior, but only spacewalkers or approaching spacecraft can see certain blind spots, the report said. Until their grounding, shuttles had taken extensive photographs of the station during approaches and departures.

Digital cameras will be given to spacewalking astronauts, the report said. In addition, extra video cameras will be installed on some future station parts, and an infrared camera is being developed to check for leaks and other problems.

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