August 05, 2004
Space Walk, Space Warp

Ron gets a properly suited-up no-prize for bringing us this MSNBC article elaborating on why space station astronauts are having such a difficult time with space walks lately. Turns out a standard feature on Russian space suits is probably causing the problem:

To keep the spacewalkers cool during their exertions, the Russian-made Orlan suits use a standard technique that involves the evaporation of water ice in the backpacks. This process results in a weak spray of water molecules from a small port in the packs.

The tech has been in use for decades without any noticeable problems. However, it would appear that the space station is big enough to have some really nice leverage points, and even this small amount of thrust seems to be enough to start the whole thing turning when the spacewalkers are out on them.

There are, of course, procedures to deal with the space station getting out of position, but even these have proven to be problematic:

One of the pieces of equipment shut off by the computer [to save power during a recent "out of position" event] was the radio transmitter that was supposed to be used to warn the crew away from the station's thruster section [so the orientation could be corrected].

There was a time when I thought NASA was the only government agency that worked, and was only being held back by luddite congressmen who thought subsidising dairy farmers was more important than exploring the moon. However, the more I learned about how NASA actually works, the more I realized it was just another federal agency, differing from the Post Office or the IRS only in that they manage to shoot themselves in the foot by pointing the gun up.

I'm pretty sure we've now spent as much on the space station as we did on Apollo, even adjusted for inflation. When I realize that, I wish I hadn't been such a vocal supporter all these years.

Go Rutan! Go!

Posted by scott at August 05, 2004 10:21 AM

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