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ISS NASA Space Science

Space Station Spacewalkers Stymied By Stubborn Bolt 290

Hugh Pickens writes "Reuters reports that astronauts at the International Space Station ran into problems after removing the station's 100-kg power-switching unit, one of four used in a system that distributes electrical power generated by the station's solar array wings, and were stymied after repeated attempts to attach the new device failed when a bolt jammed, preventing astronauts from hooking it up into the station's power grid. Japanese Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide got the bolt to turn nine times but engineers need 15 turns to secure the power-switching unit. 'We're kind of at a loss of what else we can try,' said astronaut Jack Fischer at NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston after more than an hour of trouble-shooting. 'If you guys have any thoughts or ideas or brilliant schemes on what we can do, let us know.' Hoshide suggested using a tool that provides more force on bolts, but NASA engineers are reluctant to try anything that could make the situation worse and as the spacewalk slipped past seven hours, flight controllers told the astronauts to tether the unit in place, clean up their tools and head back into the station's airlock. NASA officials says the failure to secure the new unit won't disrupt station operations but it will force engineers to carefully distribute electrical power from three operating units to various station systems and says another attempt to install the power distributor could come as early as next week if engineers can figure out what to do with the stubborn bolt. 'We're going to figure it out another day,' says Fischer."
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Space Station Spacewalkers Stymied By Stubborn Bolt

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  • Duct tape?

    Just thinking out loud here: how many bolts does it take to hold down the power unit in the first place? If the original plan calls for ten bolts, then one missing bolt would only diminish the strength by 10%.
    • How about lipids? Putting some soap around the threads of the bolt should help a stubborn bolt screw in.

      They do have soap in space, right? Bar soap would be recommended.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      The only two things you need in life:
      WD40 to make things go.
      Duct tape to make them stop.

  • I suppose there are no tap and die kits [] onboard to cut new threads into either the bolt or the module. Should be added to the tool inventory.
    • I'm not sure you want tiny pieces of metal wandering around in an electrical system located in a microgravity environment. It might be fine if they had some sort of magnetic or adhesive system of sequestering or containing these.
      • What, like the engineer's ghee you lubricate the tap and die with before cutting?

        • ghee??

          does that go into a kind of vinda-screw sauce?

          I bet if you dipped a bolt into that, it'd screw in.

          I'd wonder about what would happen a few hours later, though.

        • I went to the market to check, and they didn't have any vaccumm-proof ghee. None of the vendors had space-qualified theirs! Most of them felt that their ghee would boil off.
      • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Sunday September 02, 2012 @02:58PM (#41207363)
        Take it outside and do it.
  • loosen other bolts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 02, 2012 @02:31PM (#41207141)

    Common error with multiple fasteners. Loosen the other bolts, then tighten them all evenly.

    • by crmanriq ( 63162 ) on Sunday September 02, 2012 @02:35PM (#41207169)




      Can't tell you how many times this happens to me. You always leave bolts loose, and then incrementally tighten. Hell, you even do it when changing a tire.

      • Always like a car analagy but not in this case.
        The concern when attaching a tire is the likleyhood of warping the rotor or drum that the rim is being secured to.
        You tighten incrementally in a star pattern for that reason.

    • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

      Yes and if it can only turn 9 times why can they undo it and use a washer? I'm sure there is a good reason but I have no idea if the specifications for that are publicly available.

      • Yes and if it can only turn 9 times why can they undo it and use a washer? I'm sure there is a good reason but I have no idea if the specifications for that are publicly available.

        Sure. I'm sure they can just go into the garage, and grub around in a coffee can for the right-sized washer...


  • Damn... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Damn those self-sealing stem bolts.

  • by Orp ( 6583 ) on Sunday September 02, 2012 @02:42PM (#41207227) Homepage

    They should have used self-sealing stem bolts, they don't have this problem.

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Sunday September 02, 2012 @02:49PM (#41207293) Journal

    Just hammer it in with a crescent wrench.. what's the matter with these people?

    • by toygeek ( 473120 )

      You didn't used to own a 1987 Mitsubishi Montero, did you? Because there aren't too many people in the world who would use a hammer to attach a battery terminal...

  • by Ecuador ( 740021 ) on Sunday September 02, 2012 @02:50PM (#41207299) Homepage

    Oh, come on, this thing weights zero in orbit, they can just scotch-tape it in place! ;)

    • by galaad2 ( 847861 )

      almost zero weight in orbit...maybe at present, but it has a hell of a lot of MASS AND INERTIA.

      scotch tape can't keep it fixed in the same place when the station fires its orbital adjustment thrusters and it will move and trash around like a wild bantha when the station is doing orbit adjustments.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Sunday September 02, 2012 @02:50PM (#41207303)

    Sounds like they got the bolt cross threaded.

    Just need to back out the bolt, run a thread chaser [] through to clean up the threads and try again.

    And if NASA has an Amazon Prime membership, Amazon will have it delivered to the space station by Wednesday (if they pay the $3.99 overnight delivery fee). There may also be a small surcharge for orbital delivery.

  • . . . there's always one last bolt that doesn't fit, and too many screws of the wrong size, too few of the right size, a dinky little five-sided hex wrench, and an ancient Egyptian plan for building pyramids written in Hieroglyphics.

    NASA needs a gear-head astronaut with NASCAR Hillbilly Armor experience. And a six-pack to offer him, because he will refuse to take pay for such a simple task.

  • "Do you guys have any ideas?"

    The all-too-common customer support query. I wouldn't want to be on that help desk.

  • Take a nut the same size as the offending one and cut across one end with a hacksaw (or whatever you have to hand), then fasten it onto the bolt. After a few times on and off the thread should be somewhat better.
  • Right.

    1. Remove bolt.

    2. Shine pen camera and light down the hole.

    3. Remove foreign object that slipped in there when nobody was looking, or forgot to check first.

    It's called the "Law of Small, Easily Lost Items", aka "The Law of Dice".

    "Any small, necessary object, when dropped, will travel a distance that is inversely proportionate to the force provided or otherwise available at the moment of dropping, and settle into the most ridiculously inaccessible or otherwise inconvenient location. The level of co

  • by santax ( 1541065 ) on Sunday September 02, 2012 @03:21PM (#41207575)
    Anyone with a beard would have welded that sucker together already!
  • Maybe if the can apply heat to the nut it will loosen to the point where it turns more easily and take it off. Use a die to clean up an repair the bolt's threads. Send up another nut on the next trip that's tapped out a couple mils oversize, with graphite or maybe buckyball lubricant and a split-ring washer to hold it in place.
  • its *certainly* under warranty, right? I would assume so. and you guys all kept the papers? (someone has to have them. check your trunks and gloveboxes).

    if you return it in time, you can get a swap. I'm pretty sure.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      I'm sorry. But it clearly states "No user serviceable parts inside". By removing the cover, you have voided the warranty.

      Besides, you can't return it. You've bent it.

  • if they just cross threaded the beeeatch.

    "Erm... Houston, we have a problem. Poindexter just cross threaded the space station."

  • I wonder how long the Slashdot editors spent thinking of a word for "bolt" that starts with S.

    Isnt getting all words of a headline starting with the same letter something like a journalgasm for journalists?

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Well, they sure screwed that up. Yes, totally screwed up.

    • I wonder how long the Slashdot editors spent thinking of a word for "bolt" that starts with S.

      Isnt getting all words of a headline starting with the same letter something like a journalgasm for journalists?

      Ah, screw it. "Bolt" it is.... [submit]

      ... Wait, "Screw"! A Bolt is a Machine Screw! Can't. Edit. After. Submit?! FFFFFFF--!

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday September 02, 2012 @05:51PM (#41208793)

    If you guys have any thoughts or ideas or brilliant schemes on what we can do, let us know.

    Slashdot shop rates

    1. $75/hr Basic rate
    2. $100/hr If you watch
    3. $150/hr If you help or provide advice
    4. $250/hr If you've already tried to fix it yourself
  • Hold the bolt steady, and rotate the space station!

Did you know that for the price of a 280-Z you can buy two Z-80's? -- P.J. Plauger