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Astronauts Lost Tools in Space, Forced to Improvise 82

Posted by Hemos
from the lost-in-time-lost-in-space...and-meaning dept.
Ant writes "Neatorama and Popular Science share a CNN story about Russian astronauts repairing the International Space Station (ISS) with improvised tools because they lost the real ones. How? 'It's a lot like your house,' said Paul Boehm, lead spacewalk officer. 'You set your car keys down somewhere and hopefully you find them again later when you try to remember it.' Uh, yeah, but we're idiots -- you're astronauts. Nonetheless, nice to see the Do It Yourself (DIY) spirit at work in space."
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Astronauts Lost Tools in Space, Forced to Improvise

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  • Pffft (Score:3, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday June 05, 2006 @06:31AM (#15471212) Journal
    I lose my tools all the time -- "where did that damn socket set go?" I've been forced to use all sorts of things - pliers, my wife's spatula set (don't tell her), and my son's toy dinosaur. Betcha none of those astronauts would have thought of THAT.

    Clearly I am much more intelluhgent then those NASA dudes. And don't even get me started on that Bo Villa guy. If I had 527 different types of wood vices like him, I could HAND CARVE my own six bedroom Colonial..
    • Go back and watch any of the early episodes of This Old House -- it's clearly apparent that Bob Villa isn't paying attention to the 'experts' that are giving him instructions. The person doing all of the work is Norm Abrahms (who has his own show, The New Yankee Workshop).

      And as for tools -- if I had an outbuilding larger than my current house, with a 1/4 mil in power tools (c'mon -- a laser guided chop saw? And he's had it for years -- they only came down to the general consumer market in the last couple
      • Re:Bob Villa? (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        And as for tools... I'm guessing I'd do a little bit better on the woodworking projects I do.

        Over the 12 years he's lived in his house, my father has built his garage, deck, shed, and finished off his basement. He's built or repaired a good chunk of the furniture in his house. He designed and built from scratch the kitchen table and set of chairs in my apartment.

        He has no formal training in woodworking (though he did work as a carpenter framing houses one summer while putting himself through college) and hi

        • Re:Bob Villa? (Score:1, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Of course, sometimes it *is* a bad tool that causes problems. My wife and I were in the middle of redecorating our bathroom. She did the painting, I was in charge of the molding. I bought the molding and proceded to measure and cut. Everything was the right length, but none of the mitered corners met like they should. After careful examination, it turned out that my mitre box had a 42 degree notch instead of a 45 degree notch. Subtle enough that I hadn't noticed it, but wrong enough that $50 of moldin
        • His favorite quote? "It is a poor workman who blames his limitations on his tools."

          That is a very good quote. However, it doesn't beat the "right tool for the job" quote.

          Recently, tried my hand at putting in tile. Went in rather good for my first shot at not having the right tools whatsoever. One thing I did learn is that cutting tile is a pain in the butt if you don't have a tile saw.... and using the "hacksaw blade replacement" tool doesn't work nearly as well as you might think....

          So in that situation
          • Ooh, I'm wincing at that hacksaw comment. What's a DIY project without the opportunity to buy more tools? We recently tiled up our bathrooms, so we shelled out a "whopping" $70 for a no-name-brand tilesaw over at Harbor Freight. Worked great and now my brother's going to use it for his kitchen. Worth every penny.
            • The same principle applies to auto mechanics. I am one of the few and proud that still seems to take pride in being able to work on their own ride, partly for financial reasons, partly for the challenge of it, and partly to make sure it is done right. It seems like every project lately means a trip to buy at least one special tool or another. An angle grinder for my rusty bumper, a MAPP torch to build a luggage rack for my Magna, a heavy-duty floor jack to lift the frame of my old '93 F-150 to replace the r
      • Re:Bob Villa? (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by jdray (645332)
        It was Norm's laser-guided miter saw that made me quit watching his show about ten years ago. I have one of my own now (actually an armature attachment "add on peripheral"), but at the time couldn't even dream of owning one. I'm sure he's got a computer-driven CNC machine by now.

        I figure that when his tools are orders of magnitude more complex than anything I can buy at the time, I can't learn anything from him. Of course, the same thing goes the other way with that guy that does everything (including la
        • Underwood or Underhill or somthing like that. A real 1800's sorta guy.
          Norm Abrams should open "wood clubs" all around, outfited with all the best
          tools that members can use.
        • I'm sure he's got a computer-driven CNC machine by now.

          I understand your point, but CNC machines are actually fairly cheap, considering what can be done with them. A homebrew machine can be built (provided you already have at least a drill press and a table saw - necessary for the precision cuts) for around $500-1000 (numerous details are available on the internet - many people have built them - in the past, Nuts and Volts magazine had a series of articles detailing homebrew CNC). A kit machine (all the mac

        • Sung to the tune of "The New Yankee Workshop":

          In "The New Yankee Workshop" with
          Norm Abram, he can show you how
          To make all sorts of neat things with
          Tools that cost about ten thou.
      • One thing I miss about the old This Old House is the DIY aspect. The homeowners were expected to do some of the work, and most of the clean-up. So, what used to be Bob saying "Now Norm will show us how to raise this wall and put in new blocks" is now Steve saying "Now Tommy's crew will show us how they use several rams to lift this wing while injecting new poly-cement to level the structure."
  • My Favourite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday June 05, 2006 @06:34AM (#15471218) Homepage Journal

    Was the mudguard repair (I know, no mud on the moon but I refuse to say "fender" like an American) on apollo 17. Maps and sticky tape really came in handy that time.

    • Re:My Favourite (Score:3, Informative)

      by ZSpade (812879)
      What was that fender comment all about? You know...

      Wikipedia - A fender is a portion of an automobile body that frames a wheel well. In British English the fender is called the wing. Usually a passenger automobile will have four fenders, with one over each wheel well.
    • And that was modded up 'Interesting'? Moderators on crack today, I guess. Can't recognize a troll when they see one.
    • So you'd rather use a totally inappropriate term than an appropriate one because... wait, why exactly? Clearly, that convict heritage expresses itself more strongly in some Aussies than others.
  • I hope it isn't this ultimate man-tool [] they're now missing. Because without it, how would they cut off all those useless four inch antennas?
  • first of all, it's not like you can take something to work, leave it in the other car, etc. If it's on the station, it's on the station still. If you didn't find it in 5 minutes, then your method for looking/putting away is failing. There should be a process, etc. etc. AFter all, you can't even "set something down" in space. "Setting down" a wrench would just make it float away, and then it would smack you in the head later on.
    • by iktos (166530) on Monday June 05, 2006 @08:46AM (#15471868)
      If you didn't find it in 5 minutes, then your method for looking/putting away is failing. There should be a process, etc. etc.

      They had a process on Skylab. In the storage compartment there were 2000 lockers, on the ground there was a team of six working in shifts with a pair of redundant computers keeping track of what was put in which locker.
      Didn't work either. And since (almost) everything was supposed to be secured inside something, it couldn't be found just by walking around and looking for it.
    • Well, ya' know, there probably IS a process/proceedure for this. Everything about the station is carefully controlled. Still, it's in space, things float (I understand that *everything* floats, which means there's a layer of brown goop on the inside the Shuttle that has to be cleaned off after every flight), and there are tons of little cubbys where you keep everything. The astronauts' labor is some of the most expensive labor ever--if they can't find something in a few minutes, I'd ask them to improvise, t
      • Why not use rfid tags and hook it to one of those "press a button to make beep noise" key-finding devices? That way, if the item floats to another compartment, you hit a button in the cockpit and then just float towards the noise... IANARS (rocket scientist), but my dad's a retired one, not that it matters.
        • Y'know, that's not a bad idea. I don't know much about RFIDs, but there should be a way of tagging items (don't know how hard that is) and keeping a database in a computer...I'll have to see if I can pass that along to someone, thanks!
        • Well, I did what I could: I told one of my managers who has worked with space operations before, she may be able to pass it along. By the way, she thought yours was a good idea too...I couldn't credit you directly, but told her where it came from.

          Of course, the problem is that most engineers here at NASA are a bit slow on the uptake of new get something not only space qualified, but also human rated...well, it could take years and many $. The environment is much harsher up there than most p

  • by Quirk (36086) on Monday June 05, 2006 @07:00AM (#15471288) Homepage Journal
    My mountain bike is now in many pieces with three different tool kits broken open and scattered among the bike parts. I know the tools are there, it's just, I don't know exactly where.

    I think the way to go is to have different multitools for particular jobs.

    I love working on my bike, but man o man what I wouldn't give for a shot to work on the ISS. Of course getting the beer and bong onto the station could be difficult.

    • Goodluck with a beer bong in space... If you get the chance, I would recommend shotgunning it instead... the physics are more in your favor.
      • Um, I don't think he meant a beer bong. Of course, fire's weird in zero-g, too... so you'd probably still have problems with the bowl going out.
        • Um, I think you're missing the point too. How do you keep from sucking up the water in said bong? Plus do they have ice cubes in the shuttle? Cause nothin' beats the ice-bong at sunrise...

          which comes what, every two hours for them? sweet.
          • Do a multi-chambered bong, with one chamber spinning so the water stays at one end... just make sure that the water is below the axis, so you can put the connection between the two chambers there... Of course, now you're gonna have to put a screen on top of the bud, so it doesn't fly away. My, but this is complicated. I wish I had some weed so I could actually figure this out...
    • I wonder if you could design some sort of pressure-driven bong in which water doesn't escape in microgravity.
  • by dalutong (260603) <djtansey@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Monday June 05, 2006 @07:10AM (#15471337)
    You set your car keys down somewhere and hopefully you find them again later when you try to remember it.

    That's the problem with earthlings going to space -- we can't deal with space-based habits that contradict our own. On Earth we can hope to find our keys where we set them down. In space they float away.
    • Re:space psychology (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Mondoz (672060) on Monday June 05, 2006 @09:41AM (#15472206)
      During Bill MacArthur's flight (Increment 12), he lost his PDA for about 4 weeks. He was later doing some maintenance on some of the vents in the airlock, and it came shooting out of an out-flow vent, along with some other missing items. Apparently, it had gotten sucked into a vent somewhere, and had been sitting in a duct.
      Things easily get away from you in the station if they're not tethered down or put back exactly where they came from.

      They use an Inventory Management System to track inventory, but when you consider that there are over 30,000 individual items and locations onboard, it gets a little hard to manage.
      It works well most of the time, but any inventory system is only as good as its data. If they forget to mark down where they put something, it could take ages to find.

      When you have everything you could possibly need for living in, working on, experimenting, and maintaining a space station for six months, in an enclosed space the size of a few school buses, things can get kinda cluttered. /crew-12/html/iss012e12909.html [] /crew-12/html/iss012e18578.html []

      Whole gallery here: /crew-12/ndxpage1.html []
      • when you consider that there are over 30,000 individual items and locations onboard, it gets a little hard to manage.

        Sounds like one of the first reasonable applications of an RFID system. If you're looking for something, you grab a "magic wand" (RFID reader) and start waving it around. When the want gets a signal from the thing you're looking for, it beeps and lights up and you get to spend a minute or so playing "hot or cold" until you zero in on it.

        What could possibly go wrong???

      • "Apparently, it had gotten sucked into a vent somewhere, and had been sitting in a duct."

        And there's the answer right there; anything left loose on the space station WILL end up on or in an air vent.
        So just put a mesh cover over the vent s so nothing gets sucked in, and check them first when something goes missing.

        (Something loose in the ductwork might explain that mysterious noise [] they keep hearing. just a thought.)
        • "And there's the answer right there; anything left loose on the space station WILL end up on or in an air vent."

          Not always.
          There's quite a few nooks and crannies that things can get bumped into on accident. Things end up getting pushed behind bags, stuck in between the removable panel covers, etc...
          They find a few things in the vents occasionally, but not enough to believe a mod to the vent covers would be a panacea. (There actually are vent covers, which makes this story a bit surprising; things aren't s
      • Things easily get away from you in the station if they're not tethered down or put back exactly where they came from.

        They can blame it on no gravity, but we have toddlers.
      • I love seeing that there's like six different types of DUCT TAPE in that photo. And a ThinkPad. ;-)
        • The IBM A31P is currently the type of computer they use on board. They have about a dozen deployed around the station, all networked together.
          Unfortunately, at the moment, they're still using coax cables instead of standard twisted pair cables.
          Eventually, once they certify the built-in ethernet port in the laptops, they'll upgrade to that, and stop using the 3Com PCMCIA cards & 'dongles' to connect them.

          They can use wireless, but they are still using Proxim cards and access points. Hopefully, the plan
          • Yeah, understand. I've followed some of the certification process for the Amateur Radio gear on board, and it's tough. I'm a big fan of the GE MP/A series of "handheld" radios, and always liked seeing the old girl on board before the Kenwood was certified.

            Love to talk to those guys when one of them is excited about Ham Radio - it's so cool to show a kid or family member that with 5 watts into a modest antenna, one can be talking to an astronaut during their "free time".

            Great stuff.
    • Simple. Soap on a Rope. Just string the tools up. How hard can that be?
  • And (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Konster (252488) on Monday June 05, 2006 @07:11AM (#15471341)
    It's an interesting study on things we take for granted when people are deprived of things like the sense of gravity and of place. Couple in the fact that humans are really crappy multi-taskers, and none of this surprises me. An astronaut is deprived of a great many senses, most of which need to be compensated for with conscious effort, which leaves less brain for other stuff.

    Simple tasks aren't so simple anymore when your brain is trying to compensate for input that is no longer really there. And then they have to fight off vertigo, which is hard even for people on Earth.

    All this I took for granted before a little bit of brain damage, which recoverying from is a trivial little bit of recovery over a long, long time. Sadly, I remember how easy thing were before my neurons got scrambled, everything now takes a lot of conscious effort, mostly due to the fact that I don't perceive my senses as I should, and sometimes I have to really think about things, in single file to make it through the day. Forget about making internet postings and listening to music at the same time. I cannot fathom more than one task at a time, really, when I used to be able to do many. It's constant vertigo, every second of every day, and after some months, it becomes a heavy burden.

    The point being is that their brains are more than likely scrambling to make sense out of the senseless, and leaving a screwdriver out in the void is probably pretty small taters, considering everything else.

  • by strikeleader (937501) on Monday June 05, 2006 @07:26AM (#15471402)
    MacGyver would be proud.
  • by GreenPenInc (792018) on Monday June 05, 2006 @07:41AM (#15471474)
    For a sec, I thought they were insulting the astronauts, calling them a bunch of tools who couldn't find their way back to Earth.
    • Freaking astronauts, driving their moon buggies around at all hours of the night, blasting the "2001" theme... Don't turn your back on 'em, they'll stick a flag in ya!
  • by tehlinux (896034) on Monday June 05, 2006 @08:14AM (#15471658)
    Did they improvise with an inanimate carbon rod?
  • Even says so at the bottom of the CNN replication of the story. Damnit.
  • I have never once lost my keys or one of my tools.

    You know why? I always put them in the same place or places. ie. I pick up my stuff and clean up when I'm done. It's a process. I can't believe anyone in such a danagerous place would be so careless.

    I know my keys are always in the last pair of pants I wore. I never take my keys our of my pocket unless I'm using them. My tools are always in the appropriate toolbox unless I'm using them.

    • You know why? I always put them in the same place or places

      sure, but in your house, those things don't get up and float away when you're not looking :-)

      (I think the serious answer is they have several people using these things - think of your wife tidying up, and you trying to find your stuff then)
      • ... think of your wife tidying up, and you trying to find your stuff then.

        This is Slashdot. He probably can't even comprehend having a wife.
        • This is Slashdot. He probably can't even comprehend having a wife.

          He's not a typical Slashdotter - we aren't that organized. No wives around to bitch when we leave stuff laying around.
      • "sure, but in your house, those things don't get up and float away when you're not looking :-)"

        obviously you dont have a cat eh?
        hmm, shiny object...whack whack whack gone :)

        Stubby screwdrivers are especially mystical, hehe

        Good thing she doesn't get much use of the 3rd dimension, i'd never find anything. hehe, picturing the cat batting stuff around the space station makes a nice image but will she land on her feet :)
    • Re:Uh, what? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by iamlucky13 (795185)
      You also probably use your keys every day, making habit pretty easy to achieve and giving you a reason to have a place (counter, key rack, whatever) where you normally keep them. Your keys don't get delivered to your house along with a 1000 pounds of other supplies that have to be quickly stowed out of the way where it will fit. It's not like the ISS has a nice pegboards all over the walls like your garage with pretty outlines drawn around the hooks for the hammers and the screwdrivers.

      Look at what was l
  • by corbettl (979577) on Monday June 05, 2006 @10:07AM (#15472396)
    That's why I had a slightly melted rench & racket set stuck in my windshield this morning!
  • In Soviet Russia, tools lose you!
  • by thewiz (24994) * on Monday June 05, 2006 @10:22AM (#15472523)
    Nonetheless, nice to see the Do It Yourself (DIY) spirit at work in space."

    DIY has been part of the space program since Chuck Yeager used a broom handle to close the door on the X-1 after breaking his arm in a horse riding accident. I think the best example is when the Apollo 13 astronauts rigged an air scrubber and used their lunar module as a propulsion system to get home after the service module blew up.

    Nice to see the tradition being carried on.
  • When stuff breaks unexpectantly (like Apollo 13) and you have to jerry-rig something in space, it's cool to DIY. But to loose a tool because it's "just like loosing your car keys", then it's not so smart. Those tools aren't cheap, and the gear up there that is at risk from a missing tool is far far far from cheap.

    So... maybe this would be a really good application for RFIDs? Stick a tag on all the tools and at least you'll have an easy way to find anything that get's lost.
  • Maybe they should have bought their tools from Wal-Mart []?

    (but seriously, please don't buy from Wal-Mart).

    - RG>

Breadth-first search is the bulldozer of science. -- Randy Goebel