Friday, September 7, 2012

Sunita Williams saves $100b space station with toothbrush

Sunita Williams and her NASA colleague Akihiko Hoshide installed a power unit on the International Space Station during their second spacewalk on Wednesday by using tools made out of a toothbrush.

They proved that just because they are rocket scientists doesn't mean they can't be handy, and their ingenuity allowed for the installation of a much needed part on the space craft, needed to relay power.

Trouble on the spacecraft started last week, when Williams and Hoshide were trying to replace a malfunctioning electrical unit, called a main bus switching unit (MBSU), on the space station.

There are four 220-pound MBSUs on the International Space Station that are able to harness power from the outpost's solar arrays.

But with one of the electrical units not operating, there had been limited power use in the space station and astronauts were called on to replace it with a new one.

They had been working to install a new MBSU back on August 30 but encountered difficulty in bolting the new unit down to the spacecraft.

It appeared that there was significant debris, described as metal shavings, which had amassed inside the bolts and was preventing them from attaching it to the space craft and securing the MBSU.

Hoshide said that he was able to manoeuvre a wire cleaner around one of the bolt holders, which loosed a lot of metal shavings but it just wasn't enough.

Their repeated attempts to clean out the bolts drew out their space walk to a daunting 8 hours.

"Over 10 hours in the suit. No bathroom and no lunch," the Daily Mail quoted Williams as writing in her blog.

With the debris around the bolts, there was little chance of a successful MBSU installation.

So the space team, along with their colleagues at NASA back on earth put their heads together to figure out a way to fix the problem.

They decided the outer space team needed to do some deep cleaning and the idea for the toothbrush tool was born - fastening a simple toothbrush to a metal pole.

After about four hours of intense scrubbing, the bolts were pristine and the pair were able to successfully attach the MBSU. 

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