Think it was bad the last time you broke a tool and had to head to the store for another? Imagine that the closest Lowe’s or Home Depot was 150+ miles beneath you because you’re orbiting the Earth at 17,500 mph. Wow.
That’s almost exactly the situation the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station faced this morning. During a 7 hour spacewalk, astronauts Dan Burbank and Steve MacLean attached a new 17-1/2 ton solar panel system to the station. From all accounts it was a pretty difficult job. During the process of removing the bolts that held the new assembly in place during launch, an “articulating socket” — essentially an extension with a socket in place — broke. Thankfully, they had a spare just 70 feet or so away in the toolbox you see pictured above. (The photo was taken before launch, of course, and some of the tools are already installed. Thanks to the NASA press office for the photo!)
Past the jump you’ll find another toolbox photo and more information.
The “power” tools astronauts use on-orbit are essentially “clockwork” powered — they wind up and are powered by a compressed spring mechanism. While that might sound a bit antiquated, think about how unpractical sourcing electrical or pneumatic power would be in the ISS’ work environment.
Though “lost” items — such as a screw that got away from MacLean eariler in today’s EVA — can pose a risk to the station and crew as they tend to stay in orbit near the station, MacLean was able to gather most all the parts of the broken socket extension and stow them away. As CNN pointed out, astronauts from Discovery’s mission in July lost a 14 inch spatula and there’s a long history of spacewalkers losing other items as well.
That’s a pretty impressive toolbox. One Toolmonger staffer saw the picture and asked, “What is that — a safe?”
If you’ve got NASA Select (NASA TV) on your local cable or satellite system, flip it on over the next few days. There’s still a lot more going on during the current mission before they return to Earth, which NASA says could be as early as next Wednesday. NASA’s also re-running today’s news conference which shows some of the specific tools involved in the “incident” and explaining in detail what happened.