back to article NASA 'nauts do what flagship smartphone fans can only dream of: Change the batteries

Astronauts may have swapped a set of ISS batteries, but it may be a little while yet before they get a ride on Boeing's finest in this week's round-up. Spacewalking 'nauts swap ISS batteries (iFixit teardown not required) Demonstrating that it is possible to design battery-powered tech with power-packs that can be switched out …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Big fail

    Incredible that Clinton, Bush and Obama allowed the US to fall so far behind in the ability for NASA to launch manned missions.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Not incredible, inevitable. There's only so much budget, and since the Russkies were beaten, there were top-of-the-line carriers to build.

      What is incredible is that there are now privately-owned industries that have not only the money, but also the know-how to build rockets and get to low orbit. They are the ones that will get us to the stars, not the governments.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        imagine what air travel would be like if only government had been in charge of air travel...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Big fail

      Let Musk sell stock to suckers to fund a company to send people to Mars. That's just a huge waste of effort since there's no real advantage to living there over the Moon and several huge disadvantages.

      It remains to be seen if private manned LEO launches are safer than NASA's, but at least they'll be cheaper since there will be multiple companies offering it a few years from now.

  2. alain williams Silver badge

    It also seems that the astronauts ...

    have the right to repair their kit. Hopefully this will be one of the spin off benefits from the ISS.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    If the mole can't be retrieved and relocated to try somewhere else it's a massive design oversight. Anyone with experience with soil sampling on Earth should be able to tell them that sometimes you have to move over and try again. There's no reason to suppose Mars would be different.

    1. My-Handle

      The blisters on my hands would like to second this.

      I spent the weekend digging a trench in the yard, in very stony ground. I had a 5 foot steel bar that I've used to get through concrete before, but even with that you sometimes still have to move over for a decently sized rock.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Most people have never heard of ...

        ... pneumatic trenching. I used one of these tools a couple years ago to dig a trench up a rather rocky, tree covered hillside that I couldn't safely get my backhoe into. It won't shift large stones, but it will get rid of the matrix surrounding them, making lifting them out a breeze. A nice side benefit is that it doesn't cut large roots, so if you don't want to ruin the trees/bushes this is the tool for you. I'll never go back to a shovel for this kind of work ... in fact, I bought one and use it eight or nine times per year. Recommended.

        Rental yards carry them, and the required air compressor (most folks home compressor can't handle 160cfm @ 175psi (3500 L/min @ 12bar)).

    2. druck Silver badge

      Or if it's a new build planet, they might find it stuck on a buried workman's helmet.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or camping

      Anyone with experience of putting in tent pegs will know how hard it can be to find a clear path.

    4. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Could be they hit a buried hatch cover.

  4. Simon Harris

    Replaceable batteries.

    It shouldn't be forgotten that the first ISS modules (Zarya and Unity) were launched in 1998, the year of the Nokia 5110, when replaceable batteries were a standard feature.

    1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

      Re: Replaceable batteries.

      Now we just need an orbiting Charge Pad for the ISS (with the option to upgrade once 12 months of the 24 month plan has passed).

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Replaceable batteries.

      the thing about LiPo and LiIon batteries is that they tend to wear out faster than NiMH (from my experience, anyway) although their weight is significantly lower.

      That, and the tendency to catch on fire if you don't treat them right.

      (Being surrounded by a vacuum might make LiPo/LiIon safer, though)

      Lithium, next to hydrogen, is the most reactive material, and is the most reactive metal. And lithium batteries have a charge/discharge behavior curve that you need to be very careful with. Over-discharge them and they start outgassing, which greatly reduces their performance and life expectancy.

      And for some reason, I never seem to get a typical LiPo or LiIon to last NEARLY as long as an NiMH battery can last. Laptop batteries in particular seem to fail more readily when they're lithium based, but I still have old NiMH batteries for old laptops that work just fine, even 15 year old batteries (with reduction in capacity, but still holding a charge). Go fig, yeah.

      (worthy of note, I was deeply involved with charge cycles on a LiPo battery for a customer project a short while back, from charging circuits to undervolt protection and why I needed to design that in)

      Anyway, lithium batteries are a bit overrated in that regard. But as it's only for another, maybe 5 or 6 years, I can see (because of weight alone) why NASA would swap in lithium batteries for NiMH.

  5. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Boeing tests

    Wouldn't they just claim that the rocket is a Saturn-V rev2020 and so doesn't need any new testing ?

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Boeing tests

      Maybe they're checking to see if it has MCAS before lighting the blue touch paper.

  6. 's water music


    I hear that Brian Reader has some relevant boring experience, time on his hands and could use the money to settle a debt. I'm sure there is a mobile number you could reach him on

  7. Shaha Alam

    finally, some useful innovations out of this whole 'lets investigate spaaaaaace' malarky

  8. Giovani Tapini

    Diagnostic hammering..

    So even NASA uses percussive maintenance! Does that mean I can safely say its now best practise even for the aerospace industry now...

    If I could give NASA a thumb up for that I would do so.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Diagnostic hammering..

      Seems to be. After all, Boeing managed to diagnose their latest problem by repeatedly banging aircraft against solid objects.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Diagnostic hammering..

        And then it was diagnosed badly ... by the popular press.

        We shouldn't be grounding airliners, we should be grounding airlines for hiring improperly trained pilots. There is no software in the world that can make up for pilot error.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Diagnostic hammering..

          You can't train on what you don't know.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Diagnostic hammering..

            The training is there to teach what you don't know. But it costs money. Some companies skimp when it comes to training (ask any IT professional!). But don't talk to me about it, talk to the insurance companies. They are the ones with the actuary tables.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Diagnostic hammering..

              "The training is there to teach what you don't know."

              Correct. Unfortunately, Boeing didn't think it necessary to provide training on the use of MCAS because their software and sensors were perfect and fail-safe, just like all software released to production.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Diagnostic hammering..

                That's odd. All the airline pilots I know (about a dozen, from a handful of different airlines) seem to be fully aware of the issue, and how to remedy the situation.

                1. arctic_haze

                  Re: Diagnostic hammering..

                  Now even I know what's the problem and how to trim the plane by hand even as I never piloted anything flying.

                  The problem was not everybody knew that *before* the recent crash.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Diagnostic hammering..

              The equivalent here would be scramming the reactor and right after that the motors re-latching and pulling the control rods on their own, again. And again. And again. Rinse, lather, repeat. That isn't taught as it should be impossible, not just improbable, although I use impossible advisedly.* Nothing in the training covers that. Now I know, because I can draw the whole damned plant from memory to have the circuit breakers tripped thus removing power from the motors. However, for those pilots, they weren't aware of MCAS and it's instrumentation. Don't know means don't know. How, exactly were they supposed to disable MCAS?

              * -If you really, really know you theory, there's some impossible things that can happen in certain regimes that are very remotely possible. This isn't one of them.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Diagnostic hammering..

          "There is no software in the world that can make up for pilot error."

          I think you mean training error on the part of the manufacturer and the manual contents. Self-study, user paced, on the job training generally isn't the best solution when flying a passenger airliner.

    2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: Diagnostic hammering..

      They need to determine whether it's nougat or caramel underneath. Sods law says they've encountered a peanut fragment.

    3. aks

      Re: Diagnostic hammering..

      Simples. Get a bigger hammer.

  9. Aladdin Sane

    First all female spacewalk, and in the last week of Women's History Month as well.

    1. F111F

      Can We Just Stop this Nonsense, Please?

      ….was cancelled... "When you have the option of just switching the people, the mission becomes more important than a cool milestone," NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz told the New York Times.

      Just do the damn job, history will figure out later if it was significant enough to note for whatever "milestone" was achieved.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Can We Just Stop this Nonsense, Please?

        Did they forget to deliver the pink spacesuits?

        (sorry, I know, I'm leaving now)

  10. sisk

    Phones with replaceable batteries

    You can still get smartphones with replaceable batteries. You just have to be willing to settle for one not made by any of the top 5 or so companies by market share. I make it a priority when I'm buying a phone since the battery's usually the first part to go.

    1. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

      my understanding is that you can purchase replacement batteries for all the top phones. Apple replaced the battery in my iPhone 6, plenty of guys in my local town centre offering to replace batteries and they are wildly available on line.

      Not as easy to do as in the old days where the cover was designed to be removed without tools, but nonetheless still possible albeit a longer process now. Given the number of people who ever actually swapped batteries in the past, statistically its not really a problem nowdays.

      1. Steve Todd

        Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

        Also, the equipment list required to replace these space station batteries is rather more involved than most smart phones (even of the sealed type).

        1) A human rated Medium capacity rocket.

        2) 2 highly trained astronauts

        3) 2 EVA spacesuits

        4) Specialist zero G toolkit

        Time to complete: 6h 39m

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

          In this case, 3 human-rated medium capacity rockets. As the astronauts in question went at separate times, and one was so careless as to blow his first one up and require a second go...

      2. Tikimon

        Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

        "Given the number of people who ever actually swapped batteries in the past, statistically its not really a problem nowdays"

        WRONG! Removable battery means you can remove it and hold a button to drain all residual power from the circuits. That's been the Ultra Restart for electronic devices since forever, and l don't want to lose that trick to stupid design.

        Yes, stupid because nobody has ever shown how non-removable batteries improve the consumer's experience. Apple wanted them non-replaceable (or only by Apple for a hefty fee) and the sheep blindly followed (like screen notches, arrgh).

        1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

          Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

          Non-removable batteries don't need their own solid case and therefore save weight and size. And it's fractionally cheaper (given that people weren't buying the spare batteries when they were available and thus no profit from them)

          Personally, I'd prefer the convenience of swappable batteries, but I can at least see why THEY would chose the non-removable style.

          1. paulll

            Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

            " (given that people weren't buying the spare batteries when they were available and thus no profit from them)"

            People didn't buy them much because they were an item that if you needed it, you *needed* it, resulting the high street pricing them at a ridiculous mark-up that made a big dent in the cost of a new phone and made the idea of having a spare look extravagant. If enough people had been shopping online a wee bit earlier, and not been beholden to greasy electronics retailers, I think things would've looked different.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

          I see you have somehow forgotten the days of putting pieces of paper or tape under the battery, because the phone was dropped one too many times and is now loosing contact with battery and shutting down on every single bump.

          1. Cardinal

            Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

            "and is now loosing"

            Misspelled but oddly apt. Serendipity eh?

          2. Annihilator

            Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

            Yeah the uber-slim Sony Ericsson’s we’re notorious for that. They weren’t waterproof either...

            “Hence the spacewalk, which saw NASA 'nauts Anne McClain and Nick Hague exit the airlock at 08:01 EDT (12:01 UTC) and return at 14:40 EDT 18:40.”

            Still, even I can change an iPhone battery faster than that, so pros and cons.

        3. Luiz Abdala

          Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

          "Yes, stupid because nobody has ever shown how non-removable batteries improve the consumer's experience."

          Exactly. Ancient motherboards with WELDED BATTERIES, have you seen them? They didn't improve anyone's experience one bit. That 8-bit guy got one of these, and did himself the favor of cutting them out and welding a battery holder in its place, so the batteries can be easily swapped.

      3. sisk

        Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

        my understanding is that you can purchase replacement batteries for all the top phones. Apple replaced the battery in my iPhone 6, plenty of guys in my local town centre offering to replace batteries and they are wildly available on line.

        Not as easy to do as in the old days where the cover was designed to be removed without tools, but nonetheless still possible albeit a longer process now. Given the number of people who ever actually swapped batteries in the past, statistically its not really a problem nowdays.

        If you have to take it to the shop and/or use specialized tools to replace the battery then it is not what any sane person would call a "replaceable battery". That's sort of like the popped capacitors in older electronics: Technically replaceable, but not really as far as 99% of the population is concerned.

    2. cpage

      Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

      That's good to know. I have a 6 year old Samsung with now on its 3rd battery. I'll need a new phone soon but simply will not buy one where the battery can't be easily replaced. The phone review sites never think this issue important since they only use a given phone for such a short time that the battery life does not figure. But real users do. If only all of us refused to buy phones with a battery that the user could not replace, then the manufacturers would get the message.

    3. Herby

      Re: Phones with replaceable batteries

      You would think that it would be "easy" with replacement batteries. The problem is that when you just want to get some data off of the "failing" phone, you might think that plugging it into a power source would be enough to get it viable to get the data from the device. Unfortunately in my case I need to have the battery replaced on a phone that I really don't want, JUST to get the data from it.

      This is insane, and I am currently beating my head against the wall about it.


  11. Geoff Johnson


    Is Beresheet going to land in Dewoods?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Beresheet

      The funny thing is that older translations did spell it "Bereshit" and I wondered if it was changed for presumed offensiveness. But no, Wikipedia keeps the spelling:

      Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve'et ha'aretz. .בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

      In the beginning the Elohim created the heavens and the Earth.

      1. aks

        Re: Beresheet

        Elhoim being plural. El being the king of the gods.

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. a_yank_lurker

    Replaceable Batteries a new feature?

    It seems like phone manufacturers have not heard of the concept of selling replacement batteries and a charger. This is something the 'Luddites' manufacturing DSLR cameras do all the time, a feature that comes in real hand sometimes. </snark>. Seriously, replaceable batteries would probably require a redesign of the phone and make somewhat thicker to accommodate a reasonably shaped rechargeable battery. Though I wonder how much the hype about thinness is marketing department driven and does not consider the engineering details of a thinner phone. Also, are people really clamoring for a thinner phone, most I know really do not care as long as the phone is small enough to fit into a pocket or purse. Human anatomy restricts how small a phone can be before it is impractical.

    1. Lexeus

      Re: Replaceable Batteries a new feature?

      Completely agree, frankly the main effect of these new super slim phones is to make them super difficult to stop from sliding out of your hand and smashing the screen on the floor....

      It's just stupid that they try and sell you one of their Apple branded cases that then double the thickness of your phone... because it needs the protection?!?

    2. Charles 9

      Re: Replaceable Batteries a new feature?

      Phone manufacturers (until very recently) saw customers line up on day one at the Apple Stores for the latest, greatest iPhones seemingly regardless of what they did. Their view: Apple has the Midas Touch. Better copy them before the market gets saturated.

      Plus there's the matter of Planned Obsolescence, which really is a thing if a bit exaggerated in places.

      Cameras with at least some modicum of quality tend to get sold as amateur-level at least. The more professional the grade of camera, the more remote portability (being able to take lots of pictures in the field, far from a socket) becomes a selling point, meaning the ability to swap out for spare battery packs. The same can't be said of phones which usually don't stray far from civilization, and for those few that do, external battery backs will usually do it these days.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Must be a bugger to fish out that ribbon to hook the batteries out while wearing the equivalent of boxing gloves

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Why can't they just take one glove off to do the fiddly bits, like the rest of us have to do in winter?

  15. Oneman2Many

    After all the scrutiny that FAA is coming under for the process for certifying 737 Max, I am wondering is NASA is going to revise their certification process for when they work with private industry ?

  16. Franklin

    Yes, the batteries are technically replaceable...

    ...but I bet it's still more expensive and requires greater technical expertise than just bringing your phone round to the shop.

    "Good news: The battery in your phone can be replaced! Bad news: The battery is half a million dollars, not including shipping, and takes two people in special clothes several hours to swap."

    Fire icon because hey, Li-Ion.

  17. Luiz Abdala

    Timed designs?

    Every single thing I jerry-rigged, that was meant to last 3 months, survived 9 years without a proper replacement.

    Every single thing that was properly designed to last 10 years, was replaced or upgraded in less than 6 months.

    My solution was to force every jerry-rigging to survive a 10-year test, or to be easily replaced by another jerryrig every 3 months. And to include plans to proper replacement on every 10-year project.

    Except for double-ball-bearing DC fans, which were designed to last 10 years, have been working for 15, and have not failed me yet.

    Murphy's Law is quite whimsical.

    1. Menasco

      Re: Timed designs?

      Erm , was that "jerry built" or "jury rigged"......Jury Rigged? Surely thats an Uber Or Facebook thing, cue annoyed cat noise........Agree with your post completely otherwise , hack on compadre , there's them that can write a cheque and there's them that can hardware hack , the more hands on , the more evolved , the ghost of erstwhile phone hardware hacker Lord Stephen of Jobness smiles benevolently from his "cloud" which is white , slim , round edged and may evaporate from the heat of a million soldering irons , salut!

      P.S still using the old algorithm "Wall o' text" for my posting , its a statistical density thing , soz .

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Timed designs?

        I've heard all four variations on the theme (j-r, g-r, j-b, g-b) for as long as I can remember. I would venture to suggest that all are correct in the vernacular. English is a kludge of a language. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

        In the world of phreaking, Jobs was a phone skiddie; he never came up with anything new (other than packaging for the masses). I note with some amusement that his blue box had square corners ... mine had rounded corners. I suspect he bought his "project box" from chicken shack; I most likely got mine from Haltec.

        1. lowwall

          Re: Timed designs?

          This "feature" of English can result in a confusion over what is really meant. "Jury rigged" and "jerry built" have two precise and different meanings. Jerry built means (meant) shoddily built from the start. Jury rigged means something repaired not with the proper materials and procedures, but with whatever is at hand. Jury rigged does not require that the fix was poorly done. As the original poster notes, some jury rigs last longer than a "proper" repair would.

          I assume people who misuse these at least get the "built" versus "rigged" part correct. But what does "jerry rigged" mean? Are they using it to state it was a shoddy fix?

          Along the same lines, the transformation of "literally" into an emphasis word with random meaning has meant that English has lost a word for which there is no true synonym.

          1. Charles 9

            Re: Timed designs?

            Most people emphasize the word "literally" to mean by the exact words stated (meaning the statement isn't hyperbole). For example, literal toilet humor would be a joke about or at an actual toilet rather than just crude humor emphasizing excretion.

            1. lowwall

              Re: Timed designs?

              If only that were the case where I live. In the US at least "literally" has the following meaning in descending order of usage:

              - figuratively

              - adjective to express emphasis, e.g. "literally bonkers"

              - indicates exact meaning, usually followed by some version of "I mean this actual thing happened" because people can no longer tell what is meant by the word literal. As in this El Reg headline from a few years back "Apple iOS 7 makes some users literally SICK. As in puking, not upset".

  18. Maryland, USA

    Um, LG

    I can swap in a replacement battery in my LG V20 in about 5 seconds.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Um, LG

      And that's about as good a phone as you can get these days where you CAN do that. Samsung stopped with the S6/Note 5 series and LG with the V30. If anyone can find a phone with better specs, an SD slot (for low-priority stuff I don't want to encrypt because a bricked phone will scramble the SD's contents) and a user-replaceable battery, I'd love to hear it, but it seems once my current Note 4 bites it, it'll probably be the V20. I just wish with the phone market saturating and maturing the trend reverses and longer-lasting user-serviceable phones become fashionable again, especially not that Apple's lost most of its Midas Touch.

  19. tentimes

    Why oh why are we still using Li-on batteries?!

    For over 20 years now I have been reading stories on groundbreaking new batteries that are just around the corner yet everything, including the space station, is using crappy Li-on still. It NEVER changes!!! Why are we stuck with stone age batteries? I want an answer damit! ;)

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Why oh why are we still using Li-on batteries?!

      Vaporware. That's what I stopped reading most articles about new technologies being developed until they at least reach the "real-world testing" stage, simply because you can't count on things getting real until there is actual product for us to try. The graveyard of "new technologies" that never actually entered the market is enormous. Think holographic 3D data storage (touted back in the 90's when CD-ROMs were just coming into use) for starters.

      When it comes to battery technologies, the big obstacle is sheer physics. Concentrating energy creates risks for spontaneous discharge among other things (when a lithium battery goes up, that's what's happening). It's kind of the point with concentrated energy sometimes (for example, petrochemical fuel), so it's something you can't avoid. Highly-controllable concentrated energy storage is HARD.

  20. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    the "mole", encountered an underground obstacle

    What... like a rock? Shocked. Shocked I tell ye. Inconceivable one might find rocks underground.

  21. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    "PRISMA is intended to collect hyperspectral data in space..."

    darn. For a moment there I misread that as hyperspatial data and got very excited.

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