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Astronauts Pull Off Risky Spacewalk 220

dylanduck writes "A pair of NASA astronauts overcame an issue with a loose jet pack to make crucial repairs to the International Space Station, according to a story on New Scientist Space. No jet pack means not getting home if you inadvertently push yourself away from the space station and into space. That's a long goodbye that doesn't bear thinking about."
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Astronauts Pull Off Risky Spacewalk

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  • by MBC1977 ( 978793 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:12PM (#15694861) Journal
    My compliments... I cannot imagine how tough that must of been.

    Regards,

    MBC1977,
    (US Marine, College Student, and Good Guy!)
    • I don't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:28PM (#15694956) Journal
      I'd point out the benefits of tying a piece of rope to the outside of the airlock, and tying the other end around the astronaut's waist.

      It's an old, outdated solution, but I'd definitely go for it if the alternative was a slow death by radiation or oxygen starvation - that's just me...

      Simon
    • Spacewalkers must have balls of steel. Prior to an early Gemini mission that involved the first U.S. spacewalk, the crewmember staying in the craft was instructed to cut the tether of the spacewalker in the event he could not return to the craft before they both ran out of oxygen. During the spacewalk, the suit ballooned up to a point where the spacewalker could not fit into the cramped confines of their primative spacecraft. Even though the spacewalker wasn't told of the standing orders to cut him loose in case of an emergency, he must have thought of it as time ticked down. Pretty much at the last second, he squeezed himself into the craft and secured the latch. Crew and vehicle returned safely to earth and later spacesuits were made more rigid.

      There are apocryphal anecdotes that the crew of the Apollo missions were issued poison pins laced with cyanide just in case they could not get into a proper reentry slot and skipped off into space for eternity. I wonder if astronauts on spacewalks are told to depressurize if they find themselves irretrievably lost in space. (Is there even a way to intentionally depressurize their suits? I guess they can take it off, right, unless this requires some help.)

      Moreover, at least something good is coming out of the International Space Station: modern experience in large-scale construction in outer space. Even though the ISS is a loss in terms of substantive science conducted, I would bet it has helped a lot in the applied sciences involving in building the structure. Not quite in terms of "make spacesuits more rigid" but probably in the minutiae of designing structures and methods of assembly that are easier using actual lessons learned.
      • Spacewalkers must have balls of steel. - by the way in case of women, would that be tits of steel or eggs of steel? (I know, I know, they still say 'balls' of steel, but exactly which balls, the former or the latter? :)
      • by introverted ( 675306 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:17PM (#15695202)
        There are apocryphal anecdotes that the crew of the Apollo missions were issued poison pins laced with cyanide just in case they could not get into a proper reentry slot and skipped off into space for eternity.
        The stories aren't apocryphal. I don't know if it's still there, but the Apollo exhibit at the Smithsonian's Air and Space museum used to have what was either one of the pills, or a (presumably inert) lookalike.
        • There are apocryphal anecdotes that the crew of the Apollo missions were issued poison pins laced with cyanide just in case they could not get into a proper reentry slot and skipped off into space for eternity.

          The stories aren't apocryphal.

          In the prologue to his autobiography Apollo 13 [amazon.com] (formerly titled "Lost Moon"), Jim Lovell [wikipedia.org] writes:

          Stories about poison pills always made Jim Lovell laugh. Poison pills! Forget about it! There just weren't any situations in which you'd ever really consider making, wel

          • The stories aren't completely false. They are false in saying that poison pills were issued. The true bit is there was some stuff in the med kit that could kill but that was there as a last ditch effort to compensate for unknown medical conditions in space such as bad blood pressure or incorrect respiratory rates. I expect thats where the rumors come from.

            The other bit about the space race was there was a great deal of trying to show the Russians that the American space program was vastly superior to the
        • There are apocryphal anecdotes that the crew of the Apollo missions were issued poison pins laced with cyanide just in case they could not get into a proper reentry slot and skipped off into space for eternity.

          The stories aren't apocryphal. I don't know if it's still there, but the Apollo exhibit at the Smithsonian's Air and Space museum used to have what was either one of the pills, or a (presumably inert) lookalike.

          You'll have to do better than 'there used to be one laying around'. Primary sources

          • You'll have to do better than 'there used to be one laying around'. Primary sources (statements by various astronauts) categorically deny the existence of such pills.

            On the one hand, I share your skepticism of claims that don't cite sources that can be checked. Lack of verification and/or source information is one of the major problems with looking things up online. (Sometimes, even on slashdot.)

            On the other hand, I'm not gonna hop in the car and drive to DC to check whether it's still there. (Besides

            • You can also bet your ass that astronauts are required to say that the pills are made up in the case that they aren't (I can't imagine a situation where they'd lie to make NASA look like it had a backup plan for, lacking a better word, incompetence). I've been to the Air and Space museum a few times and I don't recall ever seeing a suicide pill of sorts, but I can't say that I've looked for one either. But they gave one to Jodie Foster in Contact [imdb.com], and that's good enough for me.
            • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwater.gmail@com> on Tuesday July 11, 2006 @03:12AM (#15696389) Homepage
              It pretty much comes down to whether you consider the Smithsonian (or me) to be reliable.

              The Smithsonian's reliability isn't at issue - it's you, as you are the one making the report. (No offense.) On the other hand, multiple astronauts have categorically denied the presence of such pills.
               
               
              And who knows? Maybe it's something that was present on earlier flights but not later ones.

              Who knows? I know. I've read every astronaut biography - and those that mention the pills at all, categorically deny their existence. Not one NASA document describes their existence. Not one (of many) Smithsonian trip reports I've read over the years mentions the display. On the space history newgroup we've spent years looking for information about those pills - and have consistently come up dry.
               
              That's a powerful lot of negative evidence.
               
              (Idle speculation is one of the things at which the Internet excels. :-)
              The other thing with which the internet abounds is individuals that wrongly assume the person randomly replying to them is in fact, like them, idly speculating - and not someone who actually knows something about the topic.
      • During the spacewalk, the suit ballooned up to a point where the spacewalker could not fit into the cramped confines of their primative spacecraft. Even though the spacewalker wasn't told of the standing orders to cut him loose in case of an emergency, he must have thought of it as time ticked down. Pretty much at the last second, he squeezed himself into the craft and secured the latch. Crew and vehicle returned safely to earth and later spacesuits were made more rigid.

        I believe the ballooned suit was
  • Duc(k|t) tape (Score:5, Informative)

    by fbartho ( 840012 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:14PM (#15694872) Homepage
    I jumped in and actually read this article because I couldn't bear not knowing if they had actually used duck tape to strap the jetpack to the astronaut. The sad fact is that they did not and NASA insists that it was in no danger of actually coming free... just a couple latches on the sides had come loose and the pack was both tethered to the astronaut and relatched while the astronauts were still in space actively pursuing their mission.
  • Rope to the rescue! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DeeZee ( 84216 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:16PM (#15694880) Homepage
    How about using a rope tied to the suit? Seems like a low-tech solution, but might end up saving a life.
    • Just my thoughts.

      And if all else fails, surely they could accelerate the iss a bit in the direction of the lost astronaut, since he could onle be moving very slowly in relation to the iss.
      The main problem might be not to accelerate too much and crush him.
    • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:32PM (#15694973) Homepage Journal
      All astronauts are tethered to the station on spacewalks, there was never any risk. This is just stupid sensationalism, as usual.
    • Plain old rope wouldn't last too long. Between the extreme heat, the extreme cold, the vacuum, and the heavy dose of ultraviolet, an ordinary rope would go stiff or brittle within a few days at most.
    • Do they have a long enough rope? I know they carry tethers for use with tools and such, but I don't know if those would be long enough, or strong enough, to make any difference...

      That does give me an amusing image, though. I can remember more than a few times I've dropped a nice new set of pliers in some ungodly-hard to reach spot on a job site. Can you imagine watching your 1200 dollar ultra-light weight tool set slowly floating past the window, a la 2001?

    • And Ropes they have! (Score:5, Informative)

      by reality-bytes ( 119275 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:00PM (#15695120) Homepage
      Or rather tethers.

      Whenever the Astronauts are on EVA, they keep themselves tethered to either the station, the shuttle or a hardpoint on a robotic arm.

      The 'SAFER' backpack in question is strictly for emergency use should the worst happen and an astronaut go adrift. SAFER is normally only employed when there is no vehicle readily available to effect a rescue (ie the Shuttle is docked so it cannot persue a drifting astronaut in a hurry).
  • ... but you find yourself drifting in space with no hope of rescue. Do you:

    A. Take off helmet?
    B. Let air run out and aphyxiate?
    C. Pray that the galactic president is stealing a spaceship with the Infinite Improbability Drive in it?
    • I'm actually kind of curious in a more serious morbid way...between options A and B, which would be the quickest and/or least painful way to go?

    • I choose 'B' since i'd rather not spend my dying minute developing a painful case of the bends. And B is the same as C anyway. Since, as greater minds tham myself have said, "where there's life, there's hope."

      Unless cracking the seal provides just enough thrust for self rescue... then it's a tough call.
    • I'd poke a hole in my pressurized suit on the side facing away from the ISS.
    • There have been rumors that the astronauts have suicide pills on them in case of an incident like this. I don't think this has ever been verified, and absolutely never been published.

      Anyone have any info?
      • Re:Suicide pill? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by yeremein ( 678037 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:51PM (#15695077)
        From the prologue of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger:

        Stories about poison pills always made Jim Lovell laugh. Poison pills! Forget about it! First of all, there just weren't any situations in which you'd ever really consider making an early exit. And even if there were, you had a hell of a lot of easier ways to do it than poison pills. The command module had a crank for the cabin vent, after all. One turn of the handle, and five pounds per square inch of cozy capsule pressure would instantly be exposed to the zero pounds-per-square-inch pressure of space. Whatever air was left in your lungs would explode out in an angry rush, your blood would quickly--and literally--boil, and your traumatized system would simply shut up shop. The whole thing would be over in just a few seconds. It was no slower, really, than some ridiculous poison pill, and it was a lot more respectable.
        • Re:Suicide pill? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by SonicSpike ( 242293 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:11PM (#15695169) Homepage Journal
          Yes I realize that there would probably never be a situation for it to be used "fight to the death" and all. But, if one had to kill themselves in space, personally a pill that slips one into a deep sleep and then death in my opinion would be a lot more respectable in my opinion, more peaceful, and a hell of a lot less violent and painful than simply exposing oneself to a vacuum.

          Having my blood boil, my skin shrink, and my lungs explode doesn't sound like a good way to go.
          • But, if one had to kill themselves in space, personally a pill that slips one into a deep sleep and then death in my opinion would be a lot more respectable in my opinion, more peaceful, and a hell of a lot less violent and painful than simply exposing oneself to a vacuum.

            Lovell's words, not mine. He also has this to say:

            "If you've got to buy the farm, better to do it while riding a corkscrewing rocket up through the atmosphere, or steering a tumbling spacecraft down to Earth, or getting stuck in orbit w

    • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:51PM (#15695078) Homepage Journal
      You're a trained test pilot in that case, so you keep trying things as long as you're conscious, like throwing tools away from you to push you back (and then somehow canceling the spin -- maybe tossing them like a softball is best).

      Supposedly there are cockpit tapes from test flights along the lines of "Option A completed, result negative, option B completed, results negative, option C WHAM".
      • Parent is a voice of sanity. Mod up.

        Pretty much no one commits suicide in a tactical situation - they're too busy trying to fix things. This is not to say silly planners don't provide suicide pills -- they do, but an extra 1oz of weight isn't that bad, and it makes for good PR.

    • D. Wait out one orbit and grab the station as you go by.

      This is orbital physics we're dealing with. You're in a roughly circular orbit with a fairly high velocity already. That little push off isn't anywhere near enough to reach escape velocity, all it'll do is perturb your orbit slightly. Instead of orbiting with the station, you'll drift inwards a bit and then back outwards and you'll intersect the station's original orbit once every orbit (possibly twice, I'd have to work the math out all the way to be

      • I really highly doubt that that's possible, if it was, you'd have to orbit a lot more than once to catch the ship.
        You're both traveling at crazy fast speeds around the earth. If you push in one direction, you're only adding/subtracting a very very small amount of speed from you, you won't pass the shuttle for a hell of a long time.
        • by Iron Sun ( 227218 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:03PM (#15695635)
          It doesn't work that way. Orbital mechanics often works counterintuitively. There are no figures in this [thespacereview.com] article, but it states that a good push off from the ISS would send you perhaps 3 kilometers away from the ISS, inot an orbit that would intersect with the station one or twice per 90 minute orbit. The space suits are good for 7+ hours, so provided you didn't do it at the end of the EVA there would be plenty of time to pick you up.
    • D. Hope that CowboyNeal acquires a Tok'ra cargo ship to come save you?
    • D. Open the mission manual at page 579, "What to do when you find yourself drifting in space with no hope of rescue"

      This is NASA. They have procedures for everything. They have procedures for scratching your arse in space. They have procedures for how to open the manual and find the correct procedure. Everything that happens is carefully planned and choreographed on the ground.

      It's basically like making a movie, except that nobody's quite sure what the ending will be. NASA's just government-funded entertain
    • D) Be grateful that life has been good to me so far. On the other hand, if life hadn't been good to me so far, as atested by my current situation, I'd be thankful that it wasn't going to trouble me much longer.
    • You should consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far. Or if it hasn't been good to you so far, and concidering your circumstances seems more likely, consider how lucky you are that it won't be bothering you much longer.
  • uhhm, rope? (Score:4, Funny)

    by RelliK ( 4466 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:21PM (#15694914)
    This may be a stupid question, but haven't these NASA guys ever heard of the "rope" technology?
    • To paraphrase my old days in the Rocky Horror Audience, "If I pay billions of dollars for a space station, I expect to see some rope!"

      Actually, along the side of the Space Shuttle they have "retractable tethers." When the astronauts go out into the cargo bay, they can attach themselves to a 50 or 85 foot long tether and not have to worry about falling off. A minor problem on the last EVA around the Shuttle was that they had trouble getting the tether to retract, so they had to keep an eye on it and make s
      • Re:uhhm, rope? (Score:5, Informative)

        by cyclone96 ( 129449 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @09:44PM (#15695567)
        Here's your answer (for what's it's worth, I work for NASA).

        The shuttle airlock is in the cargo bay at the base of the docking system. It's literally the tunnel between the vehicles. In order to go out the shuttle airlock, the hatches must be closed between the vehicles and both crews have to go back to their "home" spacecraft (since otherwise they'd be isolated from their rides home). Obviously we don't want the entire shuttle crew hanging out all day in the orbiter when there is work to do on ISS. Additionally, the folks doing most of the robotic arm work in ISS are actually shuttle crew members (since they can be trained on flight specific tasks very close to the mission) and they need to be able to go between the vehicles.

        Quest doesn't suffer from this problem since it's hanging off the side. Additionally, depressurizing the shuttle airlock sometime introduces some control system challenges because it loses it's rigidity somewhat and it's part of the structural backbone of the vehicle, so that's nice to avoid.

        That being said, the capability remains to go out the shuttle airlock if need be.
    • Yes, but they discarded it because you can't push on a rope.
    • Who knows.. It looks like they took their pictures [newscientistspace.com] with a camera phone, meanwhile I hear they pee manually, so it seems they're all over the map technology wise.
  • ... "Astronauts Pull Off Risky Spacesuit", and asked myself, wtf are they doing stripping up there?? Obviously, someone must have finally flown the hookers to the ISS. Now, about playing blackjack...

  • not _that_ risky (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dtfinch ( 661405 ) * on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:29PM (#15694962) Journal
    The act of launching into space in a gigantic 22 year old space shuttle protected by ceramic tiles sounds pretty risky on its own.

    Their suits hold enough oxygen to last up to 9 hours. If you slowly push away from the space station, you won't keep moving away from it in a straight line, because you and the space station are both orbiting the earth. In 46 minutes or so you may find yourself passing by it again.
    • Well yes this is true. IF AND ONLY IF you go from traveling thousands of miles per hour on the shuttle to 0 miles per hour standing still in space.
      • Re:not _that_ risky (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dtfinch ( 661405 ) *
        If you push off from another object in orbit, and if you and the object are still going roughly the same speed, with roughly the same orbital period, but in different directions, you can expect to meet up with that object again on the other side of the earth. The ISS orbits about once every 92 minutes.
    • Re:not _that_ risky (Score:5, Informative)

      by targo ( 409974 ) <targo_t.hotmail@com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:13PM (#15695663) Homepage
      If you slowly push away from the space station, you won't keep moving away from it in a straight line, because you and the space station are both orbiting the earth. In 46 minutes or so you may find yourself passing by it again.

      The parent actually has an interesting point but is simply bad at explaining himself, stop modding him down :)
      1) The height of one's orbit is directly related to the speed - the higher the speed, the higher your orbit
      2) If you push yourself away so that your earth-relative speed changes (e.g. forward or backward), you will get to a higher or lower orbit, and cannot get back to the station
      3) However, if your earth-relative speed doesn't change (e.g. if you push yourself off perpendicularly), you will keep orbiting the Earth at the same height as before. So we'll have two orbits (ISS and you) with
      a) same height and speed
      b) slightly different angles
      c) you were at the same point at some point in time
      These orbits will keep intersecting in two points, the original point, and one right across the Earth, so it's actually possible to get back.
  • I wonder... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:48PM (#15695061)
    I wonder why any issue surrounding NASA and the space shuttle gets a lot of buzz in the US news media. Why? Similar accomplishments by the Russians do not get as much attention, yet they are equally daunting if not more. Is it an American `thing' or what?

    I am an American but have no answer to this. Can a slashdotter enlighten an ignorant fellow?

    I hope the buzz will be generated when Russia begins to produce rare-earth metals on the moon. Have a look at http://www.mosnews.com/news/2006/06/06/raremetalsm oon.shtml [mosnews.com]. For now, a slahdotter begs for some answers. Thanx.

    • I wonder why any issue surrounding NASA and the space shuttle gets a lot of buzz in the US news media. Why? Similar accomplishments by the Russians do not get as much attention, yet they are equally daunting if not more. Is it an American `thing' or what?

      A couple of guesses about the obvious:

      - Big media is made up of largely American companies
      - America has a manned reusable spacecraft with a (relatively) large crew capacity in production use. No one else does. Despite the shuttle's problems,

    • I wonder why any issue surrounding NASA and the space shuttle gets a lot of buzz in the US news media. Why? Similar accomplishments by the Russians do not get as much attention, yet they are equally daunting if not more. Is it an American `thing' or what?

      At least currently - there are no similar accomplishments by the Russians to compare to.

      I hope the buzz will be generated when Russia begins to produce rare-earth metals on the moon. Have a look at http://www.mosnews.com/news/2006/06/06/ [mosnews.com]

    • Re:I wonder... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by asuffield ( 111848 )

      I am an American but have no answer to this. Can a slashdotter enlighten an ignorant fellow?

      NASA have a marketing department who generate this 'buzz' by aggressively promoting everything they do. This exercise is justified as necessary to keep attention on NASA and thusly secure funding, in an entertainment-driven political environment.

      The Russians don't - I'm not entirely sure how their political system works, but it isn't based around soundbites for Fox 'news'.

  • by Darlantan ( 130471 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:49PM (#15695068)
    This kind of thing is part of the job description. I mean, they're in a freefall environment with no air, and very wide temperature ranges. They get up there by strapping themselves to what is really a controlled bomb. I don't think anybody's going to argue that they're working a risky job. Some of them are going to die, and eventually we WILL lose a person to some accident that leaves them drifting away from the ship. It's good to know we have systems in place to try to prevent it, but it will happen eventually.

    It's a dangerous job, some are going to die, and that's that. They do it anyway, and a lot of 'em take these sort of risks without a second thought. People need to stop thinking that everyone who gets sent up is going to come back. Sure, we should do our best to make sure that they do, but accidents will happen. The risk involved, and their willingness to go up to open up a new frontier, are two reasons why I have so much respect and admiration for them. I just wish I could be up there too.
    • Well, the way to prevent losing people that way is to develop space technology to the point where they can be easily rescued. Somebody falls overboard, you send a boat to pick them up. Somebody drifts away from a space station, see, you just, well ... well. We just need to have a real, long-term manned presence in space that happens to include engineering and manufacturing facilities so we can start to actually build things in space. Engineers can actually be there working with materials and processes in sp
  • Not true (Score:3, Interesting)

    by srk ( 49331 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:55PM (#15695094) Homepage
    No jet pack means not getting home if you inadvertently push yourself away from the space station and into space. That's a long goodbye that doesn't bear thinking about.
    Not true. In that case you can simply maneuver space station toward the lost astronaut. This can be a problem if there are no astronauts on board. But now there are 9 people up there.
    • Re:Not true (Score:5, Informative)

      by cyclone96 ( 129449 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @09:50PM (#15695590)
      In theory you could move the space station, in practice you could not. The space station isn't really designed to be maneuvered in real time by the crew (or the ground, for that matter). Attitude maneuvers can be accomplished fairly quickly (less than an hour if you really had to), but translational maneuvers (which would be required to go grab an astronaut) take in excess of a day to put together and execute. Space station normally bores holes in the sky, so it that capability was never designed in (like it was on the orbiter or Soyuz). The orbiter can't undock quickly enough to go get them, either - at least not without compromising the safety of the rest of the crew and the vehicles themselves.

      Which is the whole reason why SAFER was developed. Back in the shuttle-only days, going and grabbing the lost crew member on a double tether failure was a viable option, today it isn't.
  • clowns... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by smash ( 1351 )
    ... haven't they ever heard of rope?

    It's mandatory where I work that if you're working at heights, you wear a fall arresting harness.

    Working several hundred km above the earth, one would presume that similar precautions would be a good idea. I.e., tether yourself to the shuttle/station/whatever before going space-walking...

    Probably a lot easier to carry around than a jet-pack as well - certainly less costly.

  • In Other News (Score:2, Insightful)

    Space Travel is "newsworthy" again.

    Too bad it took the death of several astronauts to draw peoples' attention to the risks these souls take for the sake of scientific progress.
  • ...a spacewalk that hasn't been risky?

  • Is it possible for them to use their oxygen supply as a kind of jet pack? The oxygen must be under pressure, so they could disconnect the tube, hold their breath and aim carefully....
  • by Jugalator ( 259273 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @09:08PM (#15695412) Journal
    It reminded me a bit of this (real) picture [wikimedia.org].
  • Misinformation (Score:5, Informative)

    by magsilva ( 59637 ) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:27PM (#15695700) Homepage
    The jet pack is great, but the astronauts don't put their lives entirely on them. Actually, what really make the EVA safe are two tethers, linking the astronauts to the ISS. The issue with the jet pack was that the danger of it becoming space debris, what could put the ISS in danger. Check it out at space.com or any really serious space news site.

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