Do they make a user's manual for the ISS?
June 28, 2012 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find more detailed technical information about the International Space Station? In particular, how the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) and various atmospheric control systems (like the Elektron system) function?

I'm writing a story set during a nearish future long-term mission to Mars on a Nautilus-X style vehicle, and as far as I can tell the ISS is the closest real world analog to how the life support systems on such a vehicle would function. Unfortunately, while it's easy enough to find broad-strokes descriptions of the ISS's systems and the principles involved, I've had no luck whatsoever finding anything with useful diagrams or photographs that explain the nuts and bolts of how those systems are built, what they look like, what their specific components are called and how they interact.

One of the characters in my story is an engineer who needs to partly rebuild her vehicle's equivalent of the ECLSS, and I'd like to be able to write about that process convincingly with as little hand-waving as possible. Remember the scene in Apollo 13, where they have to jury-rig a way to fit a carbon dioxide filter into an incompatible slot? That's exactly the sort of thing I'm hoping to be able to manage in my own story, only the engineer herself would be one of the main characters.

Are there resources online or in print that I just haven't found yet? If not, are there people who I can contact to request this kind of information? The giant "ISS Reference Guide" PDF on NASA's website is great, but it's just not what I'm looking for.
posted by Narrative Priorities to Science & Nature (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is not my area at all, but Ian Sales writes this kind of fiction (e.g. the collection that this blog is about), seems to do extremely thorough research, and is e-approachable. Maybe if you drop him a line he could give you some guidance.
posted by col_pogo at 12:36 PM on June 28, 2012

Best answer: International Space Station User Guide ISS crew manuals and checklists in PDF format. Search for "life support" for the stuff you need.

You may also want to check out the Space Shuttle Crew Operations Manual (PDF) and NASA JSC's Shuttle and ISS joint operations manuals for additional info.
posted by brownpau at 12:51 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I haven't looked through these kinds of databases in a decade or so, but NASA keeps a part-by-part database for each part of each vehicle: tech specs, function, criticality, sometimes diagrams.

Might be *too* much, but it goes by the term "Vehicle Master Database" and there's a link to it here:
Link appears to be down, though... might be worth a call to NASA HQ if it stays down for more than a few days.

I *don't* recall whether Russian-made parts wind up in the database (I assume they do, but I couldn't swear to it.) Elektron's a Russian contribution to the station, so you might have a harder time with that. (FWIW, I managed to get some specs when one flamed out on Mir. I remember its being in Russian.)
posted by cgs06 at 12:53 PM on June 28, 2012

Looking through my hard drive, I found reference to another database that might be useful... NASA compiles databases of critical parts for its vehicles. A quick search shows that the one for Columbia is online, albeit in a horrible PDF format:

There's got to be an equivalent one for the ISS.

It should be FOIAble, but this might not be worth the effort -- you should probably call the public affairs arm at Johnson Space Center and ask them to give you a hand. As you're not a member of the press, they might actually give you what you want. *grin*
posted by cgs06 at 1:19 PM on June 28, 2012

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