back to article Astronauts brave razor sharp edges and fiddly pipes to bring joy to boffins

The European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA astronauts have concluded the third, and arguably most challenging, of the four spacewalks required to replace the cooling system of the International Space Station's (ISS) Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) The spacewalk, which saw Expedition 61 Commander, ESA's Luca Parmitano, and NASA …

  1. A K Stiles

    Well deserved beer

    for everyone involved - from the Astronauts through to the techs who devised the tools and procedures to allow this work to happen.

    1. Chris G

      Re: Well deserved beer

      Definitely that.

      I would guess spacesuits are made with kevlar or similar puncture and cut resistant materials but sod's law usually insists on at least a little nick on a repair job. Watching your blood boil out of a hole in a space suit can't be much fun so big kudos to the guys getting the job done under time and safely.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Well deserved beer

        You would think that the suits would have something in them which would rush into any hole and block it- something like those little white balls that polystyrene packaging breaks down to, perhaps released when unexpected depressurisation occurs.

        If not, I'm sure there's a good reason of course.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well deserved beer

          I'd send them the tyre repair kit I have in my car if it wasn't for the knowledge that that pretty much kills off the ability to repair the suit with adhesive patches as the stuff dissolves it. Also, it is probably not a popular move to have that accidentally coating the inside of the visors :).

          So yes, self-repair would be good but I think we haven't arrived yet at materials that can combine that with being in spaaaaace (sorry, Muppet Show flashback).

          While we're at it, when they get clever with materials they may be able to create a tent so people can be inside it and thus work with thinner gloves. I don't think they'd be able to work without because whatever is out there may not take kindly to being re-exposed to breathable atmosphere.

          Anyway, just musing. We're some distance from the stuff we consider "normal" in SF stories..

          1. NoneSuch Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Saw that in The Martian

            A cut glove in space lets you pretend you're Iron Man.

            1. zuckzuckgo

              Re: Saw that in The Martian

              >"A cut glove in space lets you pretend you're Iron Man."

              I don't think they're pretending.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Well deserved beer

            I think I've explained myself badly - I don't think it would be science fiction for tiny balls of polystyrene to be loose (released?) inside the suit.

            They would be forced with the air toward the hole and be (hopefully) too large to pass, therefore blocking it. They might not form a perfect seal but hopefully the air pressure differential should keep them roughly in the right place.

            I'm not talking about actually repairing the suit - just bodging it until they get back inside, or until they get a chance to wazz some duct tape over the hole.

            1. LeahroyNake

              Re: Well deserved beer

              You could always go for the improvised version along the lines of Apolo 13 KISS principle .. 1x bag for life (it's a UK thing) and a zip tie.

            2. Alister

              Re: Well deserved beer

              I think I've explained myself badly

              No, I think you were perfectly clear, and I'm sure I have seen something similar used for self-sealing petrol tanks, or similar application. Instead of your polystyrene balls (ahem) you could use something which hardens when in contact with a vacuum but is otherwise viscous or liquid.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Well deserved beer

              I suspect the secondary risk would stop that from being deployed: if you fill a suit with that stuff, it'll go *everywhere* when it leaks, and free floating rubbish is not a good thing in a spacecraft.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Well deserved beer

                I was thinking having them boxed up inside the suit and released either automatically ( on a suprise depressurisation ) or manually triggered ( a "shit, my suit and my finger are both leaking into the void of space" button ).

                To be fair it would probably be easier for them to just have a roll of duct tape * dangling from their suit.

                * Assuming an adhesive that works in the cold and airlessness of space

    2. Dabooka

      Re: Well deserved beer

      It's hard enough doing the brake lines on my old hobby car, and that's just lying under the thing on ramps.

      4mm stainless in space is indeed a serious achievement.

    3. NeilPost

      Re: Well deserved beer

      I agree, but you’d have thought designing maintenance/serviceability into the AMS would have been a good thing. Esp. When it needed 4 pumps and it’s reasonable to assume component failure over time.

      Dicking about with pipe cutters/saws in space seems bafflingly bonkers.

      1. zuckzuckgo

        Re: Well deserved beer

        > Esp. When it needed 4 pumps and it’s reasonable to assume component failure over time.

        Going by the article it only needs 1 pump so the other 3 were there to deal with the "component failure over time". So either the failure rate was higher than predicted or they are extending the use beyond the the original design life.

  2. fnusnu

    Take that Kwikfit!

    and a beer for the astronauts

    1. 0laf Silver badge

      Re: Take that Kwikfit!

      I feel quite sorry for those astronauts that after a long hard day in a suit working in hard vacuum they can't kick their boots off and enjoy a cold one. That's one of life's great pleasures.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Take that Kwikfit!

        I'm sure the two Russians on board have a little something tucked away.

        Also, believe it or not, you don't need alcohol to enjoy yourself.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Take that Kwikfit!

          Also, believe it or not, you don't need alcohol to enjoy yourself.

          You can't come here to a forum mostly populated by people who work in IT, and try and spread that sort of heretical nonsense, good lord man!


        2. A K Stiles

          Re: Take that Kwikfit!

          Need, no. Desire, quite possibly.

        3. jake Silver badge

          Re: Take that Kwikfit!

          The OP didn't say anything about needing alcohol to enjoy oneself. What they said was that a cold one after completing a long, hard day at work is one of life's pleasures. Two entirely different concepts.

          The Russian concept of "a little something" is to turn off the brain and body in order to forget the 'orribleness of life. "A cold one" in this context is for relaxing and basking in the personal glow of a job well done.

  3. israel_hands

    I just suppose they were lucky they hadn't picked up a fault in the AE-35 unit.

    1. iron Silver badge

      It is going to go 100 percent failure within 72 hours.

    2. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

      oh why...

      I'e always had a thin hope that some NASA wag, near retirement would have taken a fat tip marker pen to some cover plate. And with best sticky out tongue concentratin' scribed AE-35 for posterity and maybe just maybe imortality if photographed on orbit.

  4. Blockchain commentard

    Wouldn't a Dremel have been easier to use than a hacksaw?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      tumbler ??

      they use what vikings call a JIG exactly the same tooling that they used only I would bet they spent a metric ton of money on them...

      they repaired an air conditioner and they tossed the rubbish out the door...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: tumbler ??

        I would bet they spent a metric ton of money on them...

        Point of order Mr Chairman, it's a metric tonne

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: tumbler ??

          I believe the canonical $LARGE_UNIT of currency at NASA is "metric buttload".

          1. Stoneshop

            Re: tumbler ??

            Wouldn't NASA be using Imperial Assloads, where ESA measures are Metric Buttloads (or Arseloads) ?

        2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: tumbler ??

          metric tonne

          Is there a joke I've missed?

          1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

            Re: tumbler ??

            Search Google for "ton vs tonne".

            1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

              Re: tumbler ??

              Tonne is already metric, making "metric tonne" redundant. Is there a joke I've missed?

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: tumbler ??

        "they use what vikings call a JIG

        WTF does fishing have to do with it?

        1. Mark 85

          Re: tumbler ??

          In space, a bobber and a worm won't work.

    2. Muscleguy

      1. I expect the absence of a handy plug socket might have been a problem.

      2. Battery performance generally drops fast with temperature, it's extremely cold up there. When doing old fashioned film photography outside I take two batteries, keeping one in an inside pocket all nice and warm to swap out for the one in the camera. You also have to worry about condensation on the lenses and internal parts when coming back into the warmth so you have to bag things tightly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        it's extremely cold up there

        This is true, but it's also extremely hot up there as well.

        IIRC the temperature averages out at approximately 10o celsius taking the orbital 'day' into account, with a minimum of around -100o and a maximum of around 120o.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Heat dissipation

          I would guess that there is also a heat dissipation problem for any power tools run in a vacuum. Here on Earth, we have all that nice air to carry heat away. In space, not so much.

          I would also suspect that you have to use solid based lubricants, because oil would boil off in a vacuum from anything else.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Heat dissipation

            "I would also suspect that you have to use solid based lubricants"

            Look up "dry film lubricant". Most space tools use graphite or Molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), IIRC.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Batteries for film photography?


  5. TRT Silver badge

    I saw UTTPS

    And thought, "Ultra-Text Transport Protocol Secure".

    How sad.

    But a bloody amazing piece of work by the bods in the black!

    1. ttlanhil

      Re: I saw UTTPS

      Well that prompted a terrifying idea...

      Unicode (or UTF-8 if you prefer) Text Transport Protocol (Secure)

  6. Anonymous Coward


    But can NASA and the ESA come up with a way to repair Macbooks that were also not designed to be repaired? That might help with future budget shortages.

    1. WolfFan

      Re: Macbooks

      Sure. Hand them to the Russians, they’re used to performing unofficial repairs.

  7. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Fabulous job

    I was watching it live and was amazed how dexterous with tools the astronauts appeared to be compared to days of old. Not sure whether there's been a glove redesign or the people are just better ... In addition there was a more relaxed attitude to the way the job was done - instead of the strictly proscibed methodology there was more "Do XYZ if that seems ok with you" and "you can do that now if you think it's ok" - much more trust in the astronaut.

    I must admit that I smiled as the tethered combination spanner floated across the frame ... It's so unusual to see a 'normal' tool used in space, even one that's probably made of stupidly-light alloy. :-)

  8. Saruman the White Silver badge

    They can tick that job off their list. Next one - fix all of the toilets (none of them are working).

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Seriously Impressive

    I have enough trouble using a screwdriver without it slipping!

    1. Aussie Doc

      Re: Seriously Impressive

      "You're holding it wrong." ---->

  10. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    I'm impressed with the tool design too. I think of the times I've dropped something into a void of a unibody car and figured I may never see it again. In space, there are no places for dropping anything where it will ever be found.

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: Tools

      Ask Heidemaire Stefanyshyn-Piper about that one! As she watched her tool bag float away I wonder if she thought "Oopsie! At least I know where I dropped it - on the Earth ... somewhere." :-)

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