Typical ISS Cargo? LEGO, Toothbrushes, Pumps that Turn Waste to Water
Thursday, May 10th, 2012
When the Edoardo Almaldi Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-003) docked with the International Space Station at the end of March 2012, its payload included new experiments, replacement parts for equipment, personal items for the crew, and the regular supplies you might expect — you know, little things like food, water, and oxygen.
The schedule called for the crew to unload the cargo, and to reload with the station’s trash; a process that would take place over the next five months. But a day after arriving, a key electrical system aboard the ATV failed, and it looked as though it might have to undock.
Among other things, this meant that the ISS crew might have to unload their supplies in a hurry. And we’re not talking about just a few boxes and gadgets here.
This particular payload — the third and largest delivered by the European Space Agency’s ATV resupply program — included 2,201 kg of dry cargo, 285 kg of water, 100 kg of oxygen and 4,500 kg of propellant. (That’s 2.2 tons of dry cargo, 628 pounds of water, 220 pounds of oxygen and 4.5 tons of propellant, for the metric-impaired among us.)
The crew started by unloading the most critical items from the ATV and then began loading the ISS’s trash, which includes human waste. (After all, there’s only so much room on a space station.)
Fortunately, the problem was fixed and the crew is now taking its time to unload the rest of the cargo before ATV-003 undocks in August.
Besides day-to-day items like food, clothing, toiletries and medical supplies, this cargo payload includes some special deliveries, such as:
- A new ventilator system for the European Columbus laboratory, which is used for weightlessness experiments in life sciences, fluid physics, and other disciplines. The component is regularly replaced.
- Several new experiments, including a device to investigate the body’s energy management in weightlessness.
- A variety of toothbrushes and toothpastes to create a more at-home atmosphere for the astronauts. (If you don’t like your toothbrush in space, the corner drugstore is a bit of a schlep.)
- LEGO Technic sets, for use in a set of ongoing NASA experiments designed to teach kids about space.
- Crew “care packages”, which are smaller cargo transfer bags for each ISS astronaut, usually with personal items such as family photographs, music, or a favorite chocolate or candy.
- And, perhaps most notably, a spare Fluid Control Pump Assembly, which is used in the recycling of urine into drinkable water. (Don’t think about it too much.) This is considered a critical item because there is no replacement pump assembly aboard the station in the event that the one already in use fails.
All in all, ATV-003 carried 1,062 separate items in 153 dry cargo transfers bags.
When it leaves, it will carry away the trash, then head for a controlled descent into Earth’s atmosphere, where it will burn up — trash and all.
The European Space Agency plans to launch its next ATV, named in honor of Albert Einstein, early next year.
By AJ Plunkett
AJ Plunkett is a freelance writer in Virginia with experience in covering defense and aerospace industries as well as the military. AJ blogs via Contently.com