back to article Atlantis spacewalkers snapped through shuttle windows

NASA has released a fine snap of astronauts Michael Good (left) and Garrett Reisman, caught on camera through the aft flight deck windows of space shuttle Atlantis during last Friday's third STS-132 mission spacewalk at the International Space Station: Michael Good (left) and Garrett Reisman caught through the windows of …


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  1. Code Monkey

    $7bn well spent

    I reckon the $7bn went into making graphite substitute that's unbreakable while still being writeable-withable.

    If you imagine a bit of normal mechanical pencil breaking off and drifting into something vital in the near-zero-gravity, then it's money well spent. Probably.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      An eye?

      He's got a point!

    2. Omar Marquez
      Paris Hilton

      In case anyone spews out the usual Urban myth...

      In case anyone is tempted to spew out the usual space pen myth:

      And the logo 'cause Paris would (maybe!) know this!

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Doesn't pencil lead... about and short out electirics or something?

    1. Billy 7

      Water would pose the same problem,

      and I don't think they have banned that. I would guess that the electrical kit is double insulated (or triple, or quadruple..) so that any stray conductor doesn't cause problems.

  3. EddieD

    It's a pencil

    I always thought that pencils were forbidden because of the problems with graphite dust in the electrics, but a quick wiki (Writing_in_Space) show that they use them, along with a wide variety of other implements.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Definately a Pencil

    It's a Pentel P205

    NASA have taste...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wait no...

    Take it back, it's a Scripto MP... no wonder they're canning the Space Shuttle Programme.

  6. max allan

    How about the 10 button calculators?

    Pencils aside, what about the 2 calculators with only 10 buttons?

    Or are they something else?

    1. JonW
      Thumb Up

      Forget the pencils

      ...they're off-the-shelf timers :)

    2. Nexox Enigma

      Not Calculators

      If you look at the linked / higher res version it's plain to see that they're some sort of timer.

      Proof that even in space, you don't want to hard boil those eggs /too/ hard.

    3. prathlev

      @max allan

      You didn't try to zoom in did you? Was that too difficult for you? They're stopwatches

    4. Anonymous Hero

      @How about the 10 button calculators?

      They're stop watches.

    5. smashIt


      they are clocks

      the buttons in the first row say HR - MIN - SEC, 2nd row T1 - T2 - T3 - T4

      the 3rd row looks like start/stop - clear - enter

      but i can't read the switch on the right side

    6. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Electronic egg timers

      After all, you want your orbit boosts to be for the right time. Too long and you'll overshoot. Too short and you'll just end up with an eliptical orbit that will be harder to correct and use more fuel than if you did it right first time...

    7. Captain TickTock

      CDN PT1A Digital Timer/Clock 4 Event Programmable

      List Price: $19.99

      Price: $18.11 & eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25. Details

      You Save: $1.88 (9%)

      Or bought through your Nasa preferred supplier.... (raises pinky to corner of mouth)

      One million dollars!

    8. Scott 26

      10-button calculator

      I took them to be digital timers

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They are...

      Security devices so that they can do their online banking.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    My 'not-quite-expert-anymore-since-I swapped-to-CAD' eye has 10p on a Pentel propelling pencil. Probably a 0.5 HB lead.

  8. matt 115


    I thought they didnt use pencils because the problem of broken leads floating into important electronic?

  9. Havin_it

    Cleanest rubber I've ever seen!

    Either that lot have very little to do up there, or they just never make a mistake in their scribblings.

    Anyway, never mind the pencil - what's the BIG RED BUTTON on top of the joystick for?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Viper Testing

      It's the Turbo button.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Big red button

      Nobody knows, the only time it's been pressed was on Challenger...

  10. Stevie


    Thank you, El reg, for emboldening The Terrorists.

  11. Danny 14

    thats odd

    I would have thought pencils were a no-no due to the tendency to break into smaller bits when used. I thought they used pressurised ink pens?

  12. Steve 48
    Thumb Down


    I may be wrong, but aren't pencils in space a bad thing ... especially the "mechanical" type that are prone to snapping off. Small lumps of conductive graphite floating uncontrollably around all that sensitive electronic kit could result in a panicked call to Housten!

  13. DI_Wyman


    ....this is like the whole landing-on-the-moon-thingy! What proof is there that they are actually in orbit?

  14. Billy 7

    Isn't it the International Space Station they are docked to?

    The Russians are just sharing their tech.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    So they *have* learnt from the Russians at last!

    You used to be able to get "Fisher Space Pens" (I used to have one), which were supposed to be based on a multi-squillion dollar NASA project to make a pen that could write upside down and in zero gravity, as ordinary pens wouldn't work in space.

    The UL is that when the first US-Soviet join programme, Apollo-Soyuz went up, the American astronauts showed off their space pens and asked the Russians how they'd addressed the problem. "We use pencils" was the reply.

    1. Graham Marsden

      But you haven't learned to read Snopes...

    2. prathlev

      @AC 15:42, not quite...

    3. Matt Piechota
      Thumb Down

      Re: So they *have* learnt...

      You can still get 'Space Pens', either online or at various office supply stores (Staples in the US, for example). Relatively cheap, durable, and pocket-sized. I have one on me right now.

      As for the NASA program, it's a myth to further the concept that NASA wastes money. Fisher developed the pen on his own and asked NASA to try it.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Space pens

      Were never a NASA project and the Soviets used felt tips for many years.

    5. Blain Hamon

      Urban Legend is right

      Short version: Fisher made the pens on his own without one red cent from the US, and sold them to NASA at a reasonable $2.95/pen. Russia also used the Fisher space pens. You can still buy Fisher pens, for more than $2.95.

      As to why a mechanical pencil now, I figure that the space shuttle has less exposed wiring than the Apollo pods, and certainly don't use the near-100% oxygen atmosphere (Or else there'd be no aluminum, either). And I don't think the Fisher pens used erasable ink.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Ok, so I know there have been a few cut-backs at NASA over the last few years, but come on - a pocket calculator and a pencil instead of a flight computer?

    Or maybe they've just borrowed the latest in high tech equipment from their Russian comrades?

    1. Steven Hunter

      Not calculators

      If you look at the full-res pic, those "calculators" are in fact four-position egg timers/alarms.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It would probably have more MIPS at that

      And so would your phone. Space tech has to be certified and anyway all that software is reportedly in 8086 (not just x86, no) assembly, so they run it in as-faithful-as-possible emulation on 486s, that nowadays will be emulated on something else. Possibly a laptop running windows. Still and all, given the love NASA obviously has for nursing rickety extra-special-extra-expensive helpings of spit and baling wire up and down the well, it stands to reason.

      If the USA had been serious going into space after "winning" the space race, I'd be writing this now from a cosy chalet under a dome on the moon. Alas, that was not on the agenda.

  17. Daniel 1

    John Carpenter's budget was too big

    The inside of that thing makes the Dark Star look clean and high-tech. I'll bet they've both got spray-painted muffin trays attached to their chests.

    Good job they haven't got a religious bomb on board.

    1. ravenviz Silver badge

      Re: John Carpenter's budget was too big

      ...and where are the moustache scissors?

  18. bob, mon!

    never mind the pencil...

    a joke's a joke, but "C'mon, guys, let us back in now!!!!"

    Mine's the one with the not-perfectly-airtight seals at wrists and ankles.

  19. Sean McPherson

    Check out the Kitchen Timers!

    Forget the pencil, they have 2 identical kitchen timers, but with different brand/logos on them :)

    This is the one on the left, not sure about the one on the right...

    $18 on Amazon; hopefully they procured them that way, VS a $100K project...

    I'm a huge supporter of NASA, but yeah, I do hope these timers didn't cost much :)

  20. WonkoTheSane


    They look more like kitchen timers than calculators to me.

    Probably to keep track of how long the spacewalkers have been outside.

    (Mines the one with the jetpack on the back)

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    we will never lose pencil and paper.

    It's just far more convenient than anything else. I might be writting huge lines of code but if I am struggling with a concept I am gonna write it on paper to work it out.

    Get a call and need to write a note? What am I gonna do? Jam the phone against my head with my shoulder and start typing on the computer or grab a pencil with my spare hand and jot something down?

    The pencil is one of the earliest inventions (think charcole on a cave wall) and will almost certainly be the longest living one.

  22. Graham Marsden

    Are you sure...

    ... they're not offering to wipe the windows over with a dirty sponge and a knackered squeegee and charge $10,000,000 for the "service"?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I believe they are kitchen timers, i used to have something like that

  24. Chris 69

    Not so silly calculators

    Don't forget the Shuttle was designed about the time the first calculators came out... and then it takes about 2000 years to get flight certification for a toilet seat, never mind anything complex like a pencil.

    I did attend a speech by a shuttle astronaut in the 80's (or early 90's i dont recall) and he admitted that they used a "laptop" (as in big black thing mains-only crush-your-knees ) propped up on the dashboard to show them a map of the world and where they were over it. (even saw a photo)

    Anyway, the things that look like calculators are probably there to warn the astronauts when to change the lead on the pencil.

  25. Stu

    I dunno 'bout the rest of u...

    ...but I'd be a darned sight annoyed at two workmen gawping thru the window at me every few seconds. "Oy! make us a cuppa tea mate". I dread to think what their hourly rate is!

    Nice to know that Nasa are pointing out such slackers. Such cowboy builders need naming and shaming. I mean their work is only good for another decade or so probably too, you'll 'ave to get the buggers back in again in time.

  26. Alun Jones

    That's no calculator

    That's a classic kitchen timer, as used by many a bomb-maker in the past. To paraphrase: "Not waving, but screaming 'Dere's a bomb on the space plane'"

    Well, either a bomb or the complex life support resource monitoring system: "Come in, number 2, your times almost up..."

  27. eviltwin

    Nope, the americans made a fancy pen...

    The Americans actually spent several billion dollars developing their space pen which will (amongst other things) work upside down, underwater, on any surface and in zero gravity. The secret was the pressurized ink cartridges. The amusing part? When discussing this groundbreaking pen with the Russians aboard the ISS, the Russians mentioned that they just used pencils on the grounds that they already worked in zero g. Nice, huh? :)

    1. Daniel Evans

      Scroll Up

      Find Snopes link

      Read Snopes article

      Go and hang your head in shame.

  28. Mark Allen

    White number pads

    Aren't those white and black numeric pads timers? That would explain the lack of buttons.

  29. I didn't do IT.

    Not calculators...

    Those are timers. Easier and more reliable than trying to tie in a new component into the Shuttle's existing panel assemblies, but very useful for keeping track (in ship) of outside activities, especially those that are sensitive to how much time you have left (air, etc).

    No worries, I'm sure they were sourced with the same attention to detail and appropriate expenditure.

    Yep - space is too expensive to be left to commercial or private endeavors. Not safe for 'em. No siree.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Stop the presses!

    NASA uses mechanical pencils in space! OMG!


    Let me guess....slow news day?

  31. Timo


    At the school that my kids go to the pencils used at the check-in/check-out board have a bit of that "tacky poster" blue putty stuff on them. That stuff will stick to anything. Velcro for me always seems to get filled with junk on the hook-side.

  32. Randolf McKinley
    Thumb Up

    Kitchen timers

    They're not pocket calculators, they're off-the-shelf kitchen timers. Also there's a dispenser of Post-It page markers on the LH windowsill, one stuck just above the joystick. I do like the aftermarket velcro fittings though - Pimp My Shuttle.

  33. jake Silver badge


    I'm wondering about the two 8" floppy drives in the ceiling ... Those things were HEAVY, lotta mass to lift out of the ol' gravity well ...

  34. dm1

    Weird Calculators

    Actually they look quite like a gazillion $ kitchen timer...

  35. Anomalous Cowturd

    Those aren't calculators..

    They're kitchen timers.

    And those aren't windows, they're oven doors.

    Roasted space-man anyone?

  36. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Sooty

      not sure

      it definately will work for a while, and although they mostly do rely on capiliary action, there is some component of gravity at work. Use a bic upside down for too long, and the seal around the ball breaks, causing the ink to run, very slowly, out of the wrong end (as evidenced by anyone who has ever kept on in a shirt pocket, nib up)

      However, zero gravity isn't upside down so, without the pull in the wrong direction either, the seal may never break letting it work normally.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Ever tried writing with a cheap bic pointing towards the ceiling, they soon stop working and have to be used the right way up to get the ink flowing again. So they do require gravity to work. Some more expensive biros will work upside down. I remember one particular brand used to make a big deal of this fact in their advertising, I'm pretty sure they claimed it had been developed for the space program.

      I don't know if it's true, but I heard a story many years ago that NASA spent a fortune developing a biro that would work in any sitiuation whatever the gravity and the orientation of the pen and then one of the astronauts pointed out that they could just use pencils.

      1. Jerome 0

        Space pen

        I've no idea how true the pencil part is, but I certainly owned an "amazing space pen, as developed by NASA" as a kid. I can confirm it wrote fine upside down. It also claimed to work underwater, but the paper always gave me a bit of trouble while trying to test this.

  37. Dr_Jim

    Dr Jim

    It wasn't the one-handed marking tool that caught my eye. There are two of the latest flight computers just below the center frame of the windows.

    Of course, they are space-hardened, which is why they are 8 times the size of the pocket calculator i just bought at Walgreen's drug store. I bet they cost a lot more than the $5 I paid for mine!

  38. Nu11u5

    What about...

    Forget "shards of graphite" floating into electronics.. what about them floating into YOUR EYE!?

    The 10-button devices are actually programmable timers upon inspecting the larger picture.

    As for the shiny red button atop the joystick I suspect the stick controls the robotic arm in the shuttle's cargo bay, and the button operates the grapple or other actuator. No lasers here.

  39. Lars Silver badge
    Jobs Halo

    A prototype

    for the iPen, i suppose.

  40. Leeroy
    Paris Hilton

    Foam cleaner

    They could have got the cleaners to tidy up a bit before taking off, i think i can see a coffee stain in the top left corner .

    Paris as she is also dirty.

  41. antomark

    Software Stop !

    In the high resolution version of the photo, I'm more impressed by the "Software Stop" switch. I think all appliances should come with this.

  42. SirWired 1

    I have one of those timers

    I have one of those timers velcro'd to the dash. Those timers rock! They keep track of four things at once and last for years on one battery. Hands-down, the best kitchen timer I've ever used. You can get them on Amazon or wherever. (Made by CDN and/or Pyrex, depending on whose logo is silkscreened to it.)

  43. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    OMG the shuttle is fake

    An American vehicle with no cupholders?

    ps. Nobody pays for those lab timers, you get them for free by being nice to the Pfizer/Sigma-Aldritch/Agilent rep.

  44. John Savard

    CDN It Is

    I looked at the high-resolution version of the image, and then with a Google image search, turned up a Pyrex timer that looked just like the ones on the shuttle. Except that instead of the red Pyrex logo, there's a smaller black logo looking like a check mark with two words on it on the one on the right. The one on the left has a different logo, and that one matches the logo on the CDN version of the timer, apparently model PT1A.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Forget pencil tech. I'm sure I remember reading that the shuttles still have 80186 processors in some of their computers. Now that is prehistoric.

  46. Benet Allen

    Kitchen timer

    No flying machine is complete without a kitchen timer somewhere in the cockpit...

    ... it's a vital piece of navigation kit. Use it to work out where you should be, by knowing how long it's been since you were somewhere else!

  47. Neil Spellings

    Velcro also popular on the ISS

    See this photo:

    Also used to hold Laptops to the ceiling/floor

  48. The First Dave


    Last time I checked, ISS stood for INTERNATIONAL space station, so this is probably a British propelling pencil.

  49. Mips
    Jobs Horns

    That is no propelling pencil... fact I have an almost identical item in my hand. It is an El Cheapo clutch pencil, real throw away job. Rather worrying that NASA would let this into ISS. Why? Well my pencil the lead breaks off about every two minutes producing a piece 2mm long and when you get to the end a 20mm long piece comes out, then when you use the eraser (sorry rubber) and lots of little rubber crumbs appear. Down here on Earth I just brush off my desktop and it all falls on the floor. No problem. Up there. Well?

    "Jack the toilet failed again". "Let me see - woah it's full of little rubber bits, the seal must have failed"

    "Pasha that's a nasty cough you got there - keep it up it might go away"

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