The headline is probably overwrought, but essentially astronauts on the International Space Station needed to replace a power unit on the exterior of the space station. They tried to complete this replacement a week ago, but were foiled by metal shavings in a bolt hole that made it impossible to drive a bolt. So after eight hours in space, the astronauts returned to the space station to come up with a way to overcome the problem. The main catch being that they couldn’t run down to Home Depot to pick up some parts – they had to make do with what was on-board. In a scene that I like to imagine was exactly like the one from the movie Apollo 13, the international space station astronauts along with engineers, technicians, scientists, and assorted- interested parties on the ground came up with a solution.
There are a couple of things I like about this. First is the teamwork and communication involved that got the problem fixed. Secondly, like I have mentioned about keeping good records, everyone know exactly what was on the space station. They were then able to figure out how to use those items in not-intended manners to fix the problem. With these tools, smart and motivated people were able to solve the problem. From reading the articles, I don’t think that the toothbrush actually saved space station – from what I can tell they used it to clean the metal shavings out of the bolt hole – but the troubleshooting was impressive.
As an engineer, I need to remember to keep this open mindset when I approach new problems and non-working issues. Maybe I can use a tool in a different way than I am using it now to overcome my obstacle an move on. It seems that the space program is providing quite a bit of food for thought over the the past few months. I hope it continues.