Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Space Scavenger Hunt

It's wacky but true that the space station crew have been prowling through Discovery making up a wish list of stuff they want to scavenge before the orbiter departs. Since the shuttle is going to be grounded for a time, the station crew is going to town:

We've had our eyes on the light fixtures in the 'MPLM,'" one engineer told MSNBC.com on condition of anonymity, in a reference to the Italian-built Raffaello multipurpose logistics module that was brought to the station aboard Discovery.

There are at least half a dozen fixtures that could be removed once the Raffaello module is loaded with Earth-bound cargo and garbage. The equipment would be compatible with lighting fixtures inside the station's U.S. segment that have been burning out at an alarming rate — often leaving some parts of the station too dark for detailed work.

"When we asked for them before, we were told the crew wouldn't have time to disconnect them," the engineer said. But an extra docked day would provide more than enough manpower for this and other scavenging.

Everything from spare rolls of duct tape (the repair aid preferred by astronauts) to tools, cameras, laptops, consumables (such as food and batteries) and even spare clothing are being considered for this space scavenger hunt. The shuttle is already scheduled to give a slight boost to the station's orbit, and analysts are looking at ways to wring a little more push from the shuttle's fuel tanks.

"We've asked the team to go off and look at additional water transfer," Hale explained, referring to a spare water bag or two now reserved for shuttle use. "We're doing some extra nitrogen transfer," he added.

"Here, give me that light bulb - and hey, that's a nice shirt!"

I'm concerned that NASA's improved debris spotting capability has inspired a kind of debris hysteria at the agency. Gap fillers have always been a minor problem, but better imagery has NASA worried and astronaut Stephen Robinson will be sent out attached to the space station's robotic arm to either yank a couple of protruding gap fillers free or trim then back. The protruding fillers can cause high heating to areas behind them due to the disturbance they cause in the boundary layer over the vehicle during reentry. All we can hope is that Robinson, who has indeed trained extensively for just such a task, can perform his work without accidentally causing more damage than he's trying to fix.

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