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International Space Station 2006, taken from Discovery

Astronauts use Ordinary Toothbrush to Make Repairs on International Space Station

International Space Station 2006, taken from Discovery
Leigh Goessl's image for:
"Astronauts use Ordinary Toothbrush to Make Repairs on International Space Station"
Caption: International Space Station 2006, taken from Discovery
Image by: NASA
© Public Domain 

Recently, there was a problem on the International Space Station, and there were some unusual challenges for the astronauts and engineers in attempting to make a fix. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japanese spaceflier Akihido Hoshide, along with NASA engineers assisting on the ground, had to improvise in order to fix a problem that necessitated swapping out an electrical switching unit at the International Space Station.

The duo encountered some problems taking the old switching unit off in order to make the replacement. One of the bolts was causing a problem and, as a result, the astronauts were unable to secure the unit to the outside of the station. This incident happened on Aug. 30 and in order to fix it, the astronauts had to make an unplanned spacewalk with a tool created, out of all things, using an ordinary toothbrush.

Using some ingenuity, the team figured out a way to use the toothbrush to clean out the bolt's socket and finish installing the new power unit. As a solution, what the space team came up with was to attach the toothbrush to some other spare parts in order to construct the tool they needed to make the unit secure.

"Looks like you guys just fixed the station," astronaut Jack Fischer radioed from Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, reported (courtesy MSNBC) . "It's been like living on the set of 'Apollo 13' the past few days. NASA does impossible pretty darn well, so congratulations to the whole team."

The astronauts shared their experience, outlining what it was like while trying to fix the problem during the spacewalk required in order to make the replacement.

"You don't just 'go outside,'" Williams wrote in her blog (courtesy ABC News). "Usually that is the fun and easy part of the entire thing - suit sizing, tool gathering and preparation, equipment gathering and preparations, studying new procedures, reviewing and talking through how to get us suited and how to get the airlock depressed, reviewing the tasks we will do with each other and with the robotic arm, talking about cleaning up, and then talking thru a plan to get back into the airlock, and any emergencies that can come up - loss of communications, suit issues, etc."

Williams goes on to describe the detailed and intricate planning that is involved with everyday things, such as eating and sleeping, but that the most "intense part" of this journey was with the "sticky bolt".

"That resulted in a long EVA, and over 10 hours in the suit. No bathroom and no lunch," she wrote.

While using a toothbrush to fix space equipment isn't the norm, with the cleverness of the team, it did get the job done.

More about this author: Leigh Goessl

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