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ISS NASA Science

Space Station Saved By a Toothbrush? 179

Hugh Pickens writes "Denise Chow reports that two spacewalking astronauts successfully replaced a vital power unit on the International Space Station today, defeating a stubborn bolt that prevented the astronauts from properly installing the power unit on the ISS's backbone-like truss with the help of some improvised tools made of spare parts and a toothbrush. Astronauts Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide started by removing the power box, called a main bus switching unit (MBSU), from where it had been temporarily tied down with a tether, then spent several hours troubleshooting the unit and the two bolts that are designed to secure it in place on the space station's truss. After undoing the bolts, the spacewalkers examined them for possible damage, and used improvised cleaning tools and a pressurized can of nitrogen gas to clean out the metal shavings from the bolt receptacles. 'I see a lot of metal shavings coming out,' Hoshide said as he maneuvered a wire cleaner around one of the bolt holders. Williams and Hoshide then lubricated a spare bolt and manually threaded it into the place where the real bolt was eventually driven, in an effort to ensure that the receptacle was clear of any debris. Then the two applied grease to the sticky bolt as well as extra pressure and plain old jiggling until finally 4½ hours into the spacewalk, Hoshide reported: 'It is locked.' When Hoshide reported that the troublesome bolt was finally locked into place, the flight managers erupted in applause while astronaut Jack Fischer at Mission Control told the astronauts 'that is a little slice of awesome pie.'"
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Space Station Saved By a Toothbrush?

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  • Re:Good, now... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @11:38PM (#41243243)

    Now hunt down the machinists, engineers and managers responsible for a manufacturing process that left "lots of metal shavings" in a piece of life critical aerospace equipment and flay them alive as a lesson to all other machinists, engineers and managers.

    Post the video on youtube, with a message officially obviating all current and future contracts with each and every subcontractor involved in this pathetic farce.

    Ah, yeah, except the metal shavings were probably from the first cross-threaded bolt that was carving out a new threading in the mounting. Although astronauts are known to be god-like in competence, without any additional information, it would initially appear to be a case of operator error when the original bolt was first attempted.

  • by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @11:46PM (#41243323)
    Take a look at the overall mission records to Mars. About half the missions have failed spectacularly, compared to what, half a dozen manned missions that ended in death? I'm including Apollo 1 and a couple known Russian meatshots, btw.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @11:48PM (#41243331)

    You've got some flawed reasoning there, because if robots made the offending part it wouldn't have had metal debris in it.

    It's worth noting at this point that there's a good chance the errant part was made by machine. Perhaps not a robot in the technical sense, but not a human either.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @12:03AM (#41243415)
    Then you are indeed not much of an expert. Mars missions are notorious for failure. Manned missions despite their many flaws are not. For example, there have been four in-flight accidents that killed astronauts out of perhaps 200-300 manned missions over the past 50 years. In comparison, 26 of the 50 unmanned missions to Mars have failed.

    This is not intended to be an apples to apples comparison (going to Mars is a wee bit harder than achieving orbit and doing a few things for a few days). I'm just pointing out the far greater number of failures on the unmanned side.
  • by advocate_one ( 662832 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @03:03AM (#41244453)
    I hope they had some means in place to capture them like a magnet and some sticky paper... (a vacuum cleaner would have been useless there). Who knows where those shavings could get to if not captured...

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson