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NASA Press Briefings - 7/18/97

Culbertson: “This morning on the Mir, things are continuing to improve. The crew has gone through the procedures and the techniques that they have for recovering power. The Vozdukh system is back on for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, the Mir is now being controlled by its own jets, so they do have a good attitude reference system, and the computer is back on line, so they are able to hold attitude very well in relation to the Sun. The hope is that by tonight they will be able to do some check-out on the gyrodynes themselves, and possibly by some time tomorrow be back on gyrodyne control as they were prior to the inadvertent disconnect of the cable that caused all of this. So we expect them to be back in fairly good shape powerwise within a day or two, and they are continuing to charge the batteries, which is the problem they've been trying to overcome, and that should put them back on line for being able to conduct fairly normal operations onboard. The impact of this, of course, has been a delay in the training and preparations for the planned EVA next week.

“The Russians announced today that it would not occur on the 24th, it has been delayed. The actual amount of the delay will be determined next Monday. They have their own flight readiness review next Monday morning and at that time they will announce when the EVA will occur. I suspect that the crew will be having a fairly light schedule tomorrow as well as Sunday as normal, and pick up things on Monday. Once the determination is made as to when the EVA will occur, then we will respond accordingly and activities will pick up again whenever necessary. We will not hold our joint readiness review on the EVA as we had planned on Tuesday. That would occur two or three days prior to the actual event itself, so once they decide what day that will occur then we will reschedule that.

“In the meantime the crew seems to be doing very well. They were operating in the dark for a while, but the lights are starting to come back on and they are back to normal repair activities. There are a number of activities that were delayed, normal maintenance and replacement of components that they do on a continuing basis, that they will be busy with today and tomorrow to catch up on since they will not be doing some of the EVA preps. But that's a fairly low-level activity.

“Otherwise it's been a repeat of the previous problem in that it just takes some time to go through this methodically, make sure that you check out each component before you bring it on line because of the previous low power situation, and they'll continue to do that over the next day or two and then we'll have better information by Monday when we do the next briefing, and we'll fill you in then on what the exact schedule is and the situation onboard.

“We'll be happy to take questions and try to clarify things and let you know what we think is going to happen next.”

Q: “Some news accounts from Russia this morning suggest the Russians may be inclined to wait for the next crew to do the spacewalk. What have you heard in that regard? Do you think that would be a good idea or are you ready to press ahead with Foale and Lazutkin doing the spacewalk?”

Culbertson: “That is one of the options, to wait until the next crew comes up in early August, and lot of that'll depend on when they really get things stabilized with the power again and when they could conduct the EVA if they were to do it with this crew. We believe that with the proper training and preparation this crew could do that. Mike and Sasha would be well qualified if it comes to that, but also we've got to start thinking about the calendar. The next Soyuz is supposed to come up on August 5, and there are a number of preparations that they need to do before that happens and they may just run out of time to do it with this crew. There also is a concern that we've been discussing with the Russians over the power margins themselves. We need to look at if we really are this marginal on power and if they were to have a similar situation during the EVA itself, how would that play out and would we be able to complete the EVA. You don't want to get in the middle of it and then have to stop it part way. So all these things will be considered before they make the final decision.”

Q: “Did the events of the last 24 or 36 hours, this last hiccup in the space station activities change the U.S. position on that at all. Are you now more inclined to ask that they wait or are you ready for Mike Foale to do it just as you were before this incident? How much of a factor is that in itself has been in the U.S. position on what they should do?”

Culbertson: “We don't ignore any information, and this is an event that we need to look at and see how that affects our thinking on the power margins and the overall readiness of the crew to do this. However, our thinking on Mike's ability to begin training has not changed at all, and if the decision is made that they want to go ahead, and all other factors indicate that they should go ahead from a standpoint of Mike Foale being able to participate, we still feel confident that that could happen.”

Q: “Are you saying that the reports that are coming out of Russia that say that any kind of EVA before the next crew comes up is canceled are incorrect?”

Culbertson: “That is, in fact incorrect. The Russians have not made that decision yet. There is lots of speuclation, and I know there's lots of reports in the press that this is a done deal, but that's not true. The final decision will not be made until Monday when their management has a chance to assess the entire situation.”

Q: “As an astronaut who has been in space, can you describe how fatigue can affect you?”

Culbertson: “It's not just space flight that fatigue can affect you on. It can happen anywhere in any operation in any business and it's something you need to watch all the time to be aware of on a personal basis and as a supervisor or manager you've got to watch your own people, so this is something we watch very carefully and if you have indications that fatigue is affecting people's performance, then you take that into consideration.”

Q: “In your personal experience, having been overseeing what's going on there to a certain degree, what do you think is really going on with regard to fatigue and stress and so on?”

Culbertson: “That particular day was not that stressful, so that may not have played in completely into the overall activities. But fatigue has been a factor for this crew throughout the mission because they've had to work long hours and do a lot of repair work. It's been stressful in that they've had one of the most difficult space missions in history, starting with the fire that occurred shortly after Tsibliev and Lazutkin came onboard the station. It's been a challenge for t hem, and that is s omething that we need to look at very carefully and how we task them in the future and how we conduct operations. It has been a factor in all our discussions with the Russians on what the condition of the crew is. We do not ignore as one of the elements in this.”

Q: “you said they were going to check various components as they begin to go full power back on level. Would your address the stress on the space station. Has it been originally designed to go through such dramatic power downs, power up, reboot?”

Culbertson: “The station itself can handle power up and p9ower down with no problem and it has many times in its 11-year history. The things you worry about are the things you would worry about on your own computer. If it is shut down inadvertently in the middle of a program or if you take a lightning strike in the neighborhood and it's shut down, you're going to want to be careful about powering it back up when you bring it back on line. It's the same type of considerations. Any electronics, you need to be careful about when you bring them back up, and before you rely on them you want to go through some type of a test to make sure that they are in fact operating as designed.”

Q: “Has the station itself gone beyond the timeframe it was designed originally to spend in space?”

Culbertson: “The Mir base block was originally certified for five years. It's been recertified periodically since that time. The base block's the only one that's been there over 11 years; the others have been varying times from about a year and a half for the Priroda, up to about 10 years for Kvant-1.”

Q: “Was the Progress delivery, with the canisters and the batteries, etc. quite critical? And when is the next cargo shipment?”

Culbertson: “Yes, the last Progress was a critical delivery and it went very smoothly as you may remember, and the crew was very happy to receive everything that came up there. The next delivery of cargo actually will not be until the shuttle arrives in September. There'll be a small amount of hardware on the Soyuz, but they can't carry very much up there in addition to the crew. The shuttle right now is scheduled to launch on September 18 and would dock about September 20. We are going to be carrying some batteries, food, the other normal logistics that we carry on a typical shuttle mission to the Mir. Following that the next Russian Progress vehicle is scheduled for October 1.”

Q: “During the past 48 hours, have you at any time discussed abandoning the mission with the Russians?”

Culbertson: “I talked to our counterparts about the condition of the crew periodically through the entire mission, and after the problem with the EKG where we h ad the indications of the irregular heartbeats on the commander, I asked them at that time if they felt that this was imminent or that they would have to bring him home and that if that were the case we would support as necessary, either through recovery forces if were required or with any other support that they might ask for. And they assured me at that time that their medical experts had looked at the situation and felt confident that continuing the mission was the right thing to do at this point and I told them that we are ready at an y time to support if they were to reach that decision and we want to be involved in monitoring the criteria that would used and the overall health of the crew. That's been an agreement throughout the program, that we will have periodic discussions about that and if it became a possibility we would up the level of those discussions.”

Q: “When did you last speak to Mike Foale and what is his mood as regard how this mission is going and what it's purpose is?”

Culbertson: “I last personally spoke with Mike on Wednesday, shortly after the proposal came through to use him as an EVA crew member. He at that time was very enthusiastic about the idea and felt sure that he would have adequate time to train and prepare and that he had good instruction onboard in the person of the commander. He was all for it if that's what we decided to do, but understood that we had to go through our review process. But he sounds good. I hear his voice almost ever y day in monitoring the comm from the Mir, and a number of our people do talk to him about specifics of his program as well as the plans that are coming up. We have a team in Moscow that talks to him at least twice a day if not more, and he sounds very good. In fact, yesterday he described this as quite an adventure that continues.”

Q: “Are you absolutely confident that the dyanmics, the relationships between the three astronauts is good and is working properly?”

Culbertson: “That's one of the strongest points that we have going on right now that the relationship between the three of them seems to continue to be strong and cooperative and in fact very supportive of each other, and I believe that's one of the elements that all of us are finding to be a positive in this, that they do seem to be looking out for each other.”

Q: “Do you have any more word on who might have pulled that plug, and how and why it happened?”

Culbertson: “No, I haven't heard anything. I've heard lots of speculation in the press, but we don't have any word from the Russians on who might have done it.”

Q: “When the next Soyuz crew goes up, is that going to be a shortened overlap period if the EVA is not performed prior, and what may be the limiting factors to have so many people onboard at once?”

Culbertson: “If they don't do this EVA at this time, their power margins will remain as they are now, which says that that would limit quite a bit the ability to support six people and conduct the science program that the French space agency has planned. That says that if they don't do the EVA there's a good chance t hat they probably would go with a shorter and maybe fewer crew mission next time. But, again, that decision will be made next week. I believe that if they do not fly French science program that there would really be no reason to stay up there for 21 days as is currently planned, so you probably will see a normal handover of about five to seven days between the two crews before the other one would return. But we need to see how the schedule comes out and what t he review of the whole situation is by the Russian management.”

Q: “If you were making the choice and you could choose a fresh crew that's practiced some of these routines, albeit on the ground, to do these repairs or whether you would have Mike Foale help do it, would you be a little bit relieved if a fresh crew would do it and relieve Mike Foale of responsibilities that he never really signed up for when he joined the program?”

Culbertson: “I'd be happy with it either way. I believe that we could support either option. Mike is very competent and will be thoroughly prepared and I have confidence he would not tell me he's ready unless he absolutely is confident of that. However, having a fresh crew go over the procedures and review them and be ready to go is a good option also, and I know I sound like I'm waffling, but they really are both good options that we could deal with and support fully.”

Q: “Based on what you know today, which option do you personally favor, given Mir's condition, and all the other things?”

Culbertson: “I really would like to wait until the power situation is stabilized and we see what their margins really are at that time and whether there has been any damage to any of the equipment during this process and reserve judgment on that until next Monday.”

Q: “Regarding the overlap, if t hey only launch the two cosmonauts on Mir-24 to do the space walk then, what is the minimum for Mir. I know there's a handover to show the new crew where things are located and all of that. What is the minimum overlap that you could have and get all that information passed back and forth?”

Culbertson: “Historically it's been about four or five days. They need time to do some handover and brief each other and to understand where things have been moved to and the configuration of the new modules, so I think four or five days is a reasonable time, but it could go longer if there's more to talk about..”

Q: “Is there any concern in the U.S. about the commander's mental wellbeing? Do you all still have full confidence that Mr. Tsibliev is up to doing whatever is necessary, whether it's riding out this EVA inside a Soyuz or whatever? Are you still totally confident in his ability as a commander?”

Culbertson: “We are confident that he can still function as a commander. We do certainly have concerns about the state of mind of all of the crew members because of what they've been through. We discuss these things in the proper forums and we have a medical group that talks to their counterparts all the time. These things are discussed openly in the right forums. Right now we don't have any indication that would say that he cannot continue to function as a commander and my counterparts have assured me that they have confidence that the crew can continue to do what they're doing on a day-to-day basis with no problem.”

Q: “If a decision is made not to launch the Frenchman in August, what is the fallback plan for launching him and how does that impact any U.S. visits to Mir down the line?”

Culbertson: “As long as the shuttle and the other spacecraft going to the Mir stay on schedule, what I would foresee if he did not go, would be a mission probably in January or February, more likely February, I believe that's when the next change-out of crew is to occur, and the shuttle right now is scheduled to go in mid-January, so I suspect that shortly after that they would launch a Soyuz with three people onboard and conduct the mission at that time as long as everything remains ready to go.”

Q: “Under the circumstances as they are today, with the calendar days flying by, does it appear that the Russians are leaning toward either option that is available to them? Do they appear to be leaning toward waiting on the next crew?”

Culbertson: “That's what the press has reported from Moscow, but I have'nt had any indication that they've gone one way or the other yet..”

Q: “Do you have any estimate on when might try on the Orlan suit and whatever space suit gloves he can find onboard because that might be the limiting factor itself that would force the decision if he can't comfortably fit into any of the gloves that they have?”

Culbertson: “As it turns out, the gloves are fully adjustable. They really only have two sizes for all the people that go to the Mir and the suit has lots of adjustment capability, so he is in exactly the same position he would be from a suit and hardware availability situation that he would have been if he were doing a planned EVA. They will try on the equipment probably about five or six days before the planned EVA, make all the necessary adjustments, and I don't believe the question will be if he can be fitted with the equipment, but just how much adjustment is necessary to make that happen. Mike is of a size that he is well within their range for suitability in the suit and in the gloves and I don't believe that will be a factor at all.”

Q: “If the choice is made for the next crew to do it on the short turnaround, what would be a limiting factor for the four or five days to support five people onboard? The candles, the Vozdukh, the power, water? ”

Culbertson: “Right now the consumable that is in shortest supply is the lithium hydroxide canisters for CO2 removal. However, the Vozdukh is working and they'd have to supplement that a little bit with the canisters if they had more than three people onboard. So that's a consumable that they'll watch very carefully, but I believe the limiting factor will just be on the amount of time required for the two crews to do their handover and be assured that the oncoming crew has all the information they need before they conduct their mission.”

Q: “You made the comment yesterday that the commander would have to be really skillful to go into the Soyuz and manually put it into the proper roll so it went into solar inertia each time it went around to manually point it. As a pilot, how difficult would it be to manually instruct from a very small spacecraft to control the entire stack to go through that spin? How difficult is it for Tsibliev to set up the proper rotation track the Sun?”

Culbertson: “Because the Soyuz docks at about a 45° angle to actual orthogonal axes of the station itself, Tsibliev has to use two jets in two axes to set up a roll of the stack itself. They are trained to do this and he's had plenty of practice this mission to do this, so I suspect he's pretty good at it.”

Q: “Is any consideration being given to returning Mike Foale aboard the Soyuz with the Russian crew in August, and if not, why not?”

Culbertson: “We look at all options all the time about how we might proceed with the mission, depending on what were to occur. Right now there's no indication that we should plan on doing this and there's nothing that says that we need to terminate his mission at this time. He's doing very well and in fact is a very highly contributing member of the crew. So there's really no reason to bring Mike back early. I think finishing his mission is important to him and important to the overall program, and unless he were in danger or we felt he were unsafe up there, then we would not recommend something like that. And I think if we reached the point where we thought that were true, we'd recommend bringing everybody home.”

Q: “What is the downside to allowing the next crew to do the repairs?”

Culbertson: “The downside is that they would not have t he information that they might be able to gain by going inside the module at this time. There is some thought that they may learn something once they see inside that would modify the load of the Soyuz as it comes up. They may want to put some additional hardware onboard. They may want to do some additional training or simulation on the crew coming up if they were to learn something unexpected inside the Spektr. They may see some evidence of where the leak is or they may difficulty with the cables themselves. They may have to change the configuration of the jumpers or something. So mainly they will not gather the information they were hoping to prior to the launch of this next mission.”

Q: “Is the Mir crew now using oxygen masks to breathe, and what's the temperature on the Mir right now?”

Culbertson: “ No, the atmosphere on the Mir right now is very comfortable. They are operating within normal temperature ranges. The O2 is well within what we would consider normal limits. They are supplementing a little bit occasionally by the oxygen that came up on the last Progress, but have not had to worry about that in the last day or two. The CO2 removal system has been turned back on so they're not having to use any of their consumable lithium hydroxide cans, so basically the environment is back to a fairly comfortable level - and never really left the comfort zone during this entire operation.”

Q: “Can you compare the situation yesterday with the situation immediately after the collision on June 25? Was yesterday worse?”

Culbertson: “Yesterday was almost identical to the situation shortly after the collision in terms of the power levels and the activities required to recover it. We could have replayed those press conferences and you probably wouldn't have noticed the difference.”

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Curator: Kim Dismukes
Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty