Maintenance of the International Space Station
Unlike space shuttles or space capsules, the International Space Station (ISS) never returns to Earth. This means that the crewmembers on board the ISS are responsible not only for operating the Station, but for maintaining it as well.
There are two types of on-orbit maintenance:
- Preventive maintenance, which involves inspection, replacement and cleaning tasks that the astronauts train for prior to their mission.
- Corrective maintenance, which requires the astronauts to fix a broken or non-functional piece of equipment; this involves troubleshooting and testing in order to deal with an unforeseen situation.
For instance, Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk was tasked with fixing a key component of the ISS's Oxygen Generation Assembly, the Water Orbital Replacement Unit, which is integral to life support on the Station!
Housekeeping, even in orbit!
Astronauts do not have only complex and difficult tasks to perform: they must also take care of household chores! Otherwise, small debris could become lodged in the circuits and cause damage. It could also end up in astronauts' lungs.
Housekeeping tasks include:
- Using a vacuum cleaner to clean the control panels and air vents and to remove all undesirable matter from the ambient air (crumbs, hair, etc.).
- Disinfecting experimental or other equipment to eliminate any potentially harmful bacteria.
- Cleaning the bathroom and kitchen areas.
The air vents are a little like the lost and found section: since objects float in microgravity, astronauts often find pencils, tools and other lost items in these vents!
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