Since the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida last month, Ron Baalke of Section 312 has at the end of each day created an archive of images from a "Web camera" that shows Internet fans ongoing preparations for the spacecraft’s launch this April.
But while checking images from the clean room at the Cape on the evening of Friday, Jan. 19, Baalke noticed something quite out of the ordinary. And his quick reaction has helped to save the Odyssey project a major headache.
"I saw a brown liquid spread out across the floor, including underneath the spacecraft and the Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) instrument sitting nearby," Baalke said. He noticed the leak at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time, about 20 minutes after it started. The spacecraft was unattended, the technical crew having retired for the evening.
Baalke immediately called George Pace, the project manager, and Giulio Cesarone, the Lockheed Martin 2001 test conductor. "I bolted out of my chair," Pace said, then called KSC officials, who arrived within 10 minutes to stop the leak and mop up.
The brown liquid that Baalke had seen was from a rust inhibitor used in the GRS cooling unit. More than 2,200 liters (500 gallons) of water had been dumped onto the clean room floor.
Fortunately, Pace said, the Odyssey spacecraft was up on a dolly, several inches off the floor, and "it’s doubtful it would have been harmed." Neither the GRS instrument nor ground support equipment suffered any damage. Some cabling on the floor was wet but unharmed, and powered operations were suspended over the weekend for cleanup and drying of the cables.
Things could have been much worse. Pace noted that instruments
tracking humidity and particle counts in the clean room would have detected the anomaly, "but that might have been thousands of gallons later," he said. A much larger cleanup operation would have hindered the project’s testing activities.
"We on the Odyssey Project compliment Ron for taking the actions that he did," Pace said.