The Pioneering Lifestyle In Low Earth Orbit

The first element of the International Space Station (ISS) launched over fifteen years ago, on November 20, 1998. For more than thirteen years at least two human beings have been continually living off the surface of our planet. Assembly of the Space Station is now complete. It is being utilized by its crews and scientists from around the world to execute its primary mission – scientific investigations that can only be accomplished in the microgravity environment of Low Earth Orbit (LEO). As with any structure, items age, wear out, or break and need to be repaired. What could be rather “simple” repairs on Earth can become much more complex in zero gravity. In some cases, “necessity becomes the mother of invention.”

A Frontier Outpost

The world-class laboratory that is the Space Station is, in numerous ways, a frontier outpost, similar to the forts (military and civil) established in the Westward expansion of the United States. The ISS orbits a “mere” 420 km (260 miles) above the surface of the planet. That’s about the same distance as between Houston and Dallas, Texas. However it’s not the distance from other human centers of civilization that make it an outpost or a frontier. Instead, it is the fact that those 420 km are straight up above our heads. The ISS, a structure assembled in orbit to be roughly the size of an American football field, must not only survive but thrive in conditions unlike any other human-occupied structure. The facility needs to not only meet human needs for living but also provide the laboratory capabilities for science and research, both inside and outside the Space Station.

For the most part, the Space Station meets these requirements extremely well. However, just as on Earth, problems do occur. At times software or hardware does not function correctly because it wasn’t or couldn’t be tested in the unique environment of LEO. For example, there are life support systems that have never been widely used on Earth. Even though these systems are essential in either keeping the crew alive or the facility running, operating the systems themselves is a scientific experiment. In cases where this equipment stops working, the problems need to be fixed in order for the mission to continue and for the ISS to stay viable. In the worst case scenario, not fixing the problem could mean bringing the crews home and permanently ending the ISS mission.

As previous generations explored our planet and pushed the boundaries of civilization they learned to adapt and to learn from the circumstances that surrounded them in order to survive and even thrive. When the wheel on the covered wagon broke, it had to be fixed then and there; there was no real alternative if the pioneers wanted to get to their next destination. Utilizing that same manner of pioneering ingenuity and resourcefulness today allows us to formulate problem solving strategies for our orbital frontier outpost.

The ISS is equipped with as many spare parts as storage space allows. However, like the early pioneers and explorers, we cannot carry multiple spares for everything. For some things, we can rely on shipments from home. But as with all outposts, resupply missions are not cheap, easy, quick to schedule, or 100% reliable. For an example from the 1800s, if the grindstone of your mill in frontier Texas broke, you could order another one from St. Louis or points East, but it was very expensive and its arrival was months away and never truly assured. Whether waiting for a replacement or not, often on the frontier they tried to fix what they had using what they had on hand. Similarly on the Space Station, in many cases we must use the materials we have on hand to develop our own in-situ solution, or ‘hack.’ One advantage we have with the ISS that previous explorers did not is that there is almost continuous communication with hundreds of experts back “home” to assist in developing those creative ideas and solutions. Imagine Western pioneers having instant communication with support teams on the US East Coast; the telegraph and telephone clearly revolutionized the concept of a ‘remote support team.’

A History of Space Hacks

Unforeseen situations and problems arise despite the best efforts of those involved. It is these types of challenging moments and situations where human ingenuity and resourcefulness both onboard the ISS and in control centers around the world rise to the occasion and find a solution. This extremely high level of creativity facilitated the creation of the CO2 scrubber solution for Apollo 13, the cuff link repair of a ripped ISS solar array (see Sidebar below), and using a toothbrush on a spacewalk to install a stubborn but critical ISS power supply box.

Image of Scott Parazynski after repairing a ripped ISS solar array on STS-120.
Astronaut Scott Parazynski assesses his repair work of a torn ISS solar array during the STS-120 mission. During the spacewalk he cut a snagged wire and installed homemade stabilizers (cuff links) designed to strengthen the array’s structure in the vicinity of the damage.

While there are numerous cargo resupply options for ISS, the need for on-site unique and ingenious recovery solutions will continue to be necessary, and may even increase in frequency as the Space Station ages. With every one of these successful recoveries we not only allow ISS to continue its mission but learn new insights and techniques to help future designers and explorers as they continue to push the boundary of our frontier beyond the relative safety of Low Earth Orbit.

Sidebar: Cuff links?

Why on Earth (off Earth?) would astronauts need to install cuff links in a solar array? The P6 truss component of ISS was launched on STS-97 (ISS 4A) in November 2000. It contains two sets of solar arrays and provided power for the US Segment of ISS. It was “temporarily” mounted on top of ISS, on the Z1 truss. When the large truss ‘backbone’ of ISS was assembled later, the P6 arrays needed to be retracted so the arrays “down below” on the larger truss did not contact the P6 arrays “up above.” The arrays were retracted on missions STS-116 (12A.1) and STS-117 (13A), both in 2006. That’s 6 years after they were deployed. The arrays (each blanket being the size of a basketball court) folded up accordion style and went back into their very small blanket boxes. On STS-120 (10A) in October 2007, the P6 truss was detached from the Z1 truss and moved to the extreme port side of the ISS, where it was connected to the P5 truss which completed construction of the ISS truss elements.

All that remained was to redeploy the P6 solar arrays and generate power. Those blankets, however, after being deployed in the atomic oxygen environment of Low Earth Orbit for 6 years, and then folded up for 1 year, did not unfold gently and neatly. Unfortunately, a couple of the panels stuck together and even though deployment of these basketball-court-sized arrays was done very slowly and gently, a couple of the hinge lines on one of the blankets tore.

It is hard to see in the photos but there are actually a few guide wires that run the length of the solar array from top to bottom to assist keeping the array “straight” as it deploys and retracts. These wires go through grommets in each section of each blanket. Our clever In Flight Maintenance team developed some tools that used materials already on ISS, including wire and zipties, to create ‘cuff links’ that interfaced with those grommets and essentially put the blankets all back to where they needed to be.

Today, in early 2014, the P6 solar arrays continue to do exceptionally well. The cuff link repair remains intact. We periodically have the crew take images of all of the solar arrays to allow for inspection for damage or degradation. There are, as yet, no issues or problems noted with the cuff link repair hack. The P6 arrays, the oldest on the US Segment, continue to output power just as well as their siblings.

Close up view of one of the torn solar array blankets on the P6 truss.

Additional resources:

Portrait of Flight Director Ed Van Cise
Flight Director Ed Van Cise

Ed has been serving as a NASA Flight Director for the International Space Station since January 2010, selected as part of the Flight Director Class of 2009. His call sign is “Carbon Flight” and can be found on Twitter at @Carbon_Flight. As a Flight Director, Ed’s major assignments have included working the STS-131 ISS Assembly mission in 2010, leading the ISS Increment 28 mission in 2011, and leading the HTV-4 ISS resupply mission in 2013. Ed was also the Lead Flight Director for 3 spacewalks, 2 in 2012 and 1 in 2013. Ed’s next major assignment is leading the ISS Increment 41 mission in Fall 2014.

91 thoughts on “The Pioneering Lifestyle In Low Earth Orbit

  1. Great post.
    I wish we got to hear more about the hacks as, while everyone hears about the Apollo 13, even the smaller ones I think are a great inspiration (using an electric toothbrush!). I can’t help but feel that it would allow more people to relate to it and, in a way, bring it to earth (everyone at some point does a hack, even if it’s as simple as sticking something under a wobbly table).

  2. Using the ISS as a space station to do scientific research? Not a hack, just them using it for what it is for!
    Joking aside, this is a great post. Doesn’t fit neatly into normal hackaday content but lots of room for exploration and documenting what other hacks have been done. Thanks for the post and space is awesome.

  3. Wow, humans in LEO (for the last 16+ years), how unimpressive is that? And at a cost that boggles the mind. This is not baby steps for the US, it’s speed running in reverse. Either get serious about manned space exploration, or leave it to the robots.

    1. This IS “getting serious”. We are working out the kinks of how to live in space. We are learning lessons on how to fix things in space. We need to learn these lessons in low earth orbit before we send people off to other planets.

      1. Send people off to other planets? That stuff isn’t going to happen in my lifetime. Let Captain Kirk worry about that in the 23rd century. I don’t want to see my country involved in space exploration at all anymore. We can’t afford it. None of that stuff up there matters down here anyways. It is all too far away!

        1. I don’t know what country you’re from, but you’re sounding pretty freaking ignorant. A good case can be made that modern computing is a direct result of the space program. Assuming that there are about 300 million people in the US, the 2014 cost of NASA is about $60 per head. By way of comparison the 2013 military budget is about $572 billion, or roughly $1,900 per head. Arguably conducting scientific research is a better use of As for space research having no terrestrial impact, take a look at

          1. Modern computing was going to happen space program, or no space program. In fact aerospace was extremely resistant to microelectronics initially. Call it industry inertia. But the first integrated circuit manufacturers had a hard time getting their products to be used compared to board assemblies. No one wanted that new fangled stuff in their crafts. You have to realize the people that engineered those boards, and built them were already entrenched in the industry when integrated circuits came along. So the new technology was a threat to them.

            Intel made the first microprocessor for a Japanese company that made calculators. Now what were you saying about modern computing and the space program? Perception is not always reality.

        2. I dunno if that’s a serious statement, but obviously nobody’s going to be flying starships in the 23rd Century until we’ve done all the preceding research first! You can’t just wait for it!

          Star Trek was written at a time when several moon missions were cobbled together from basically nothing, in the course of a decade. It was natural for them to expect a linear progress. Nobody thought successions of idiot governments would basically close the program down and have NASA begging for scraps.

          Still, there’s always enough money for wars and giant tax breaks, for corporations and the super-rich.

          I’m really annoyed, because while we’re all down here burning our lifespans away, nothing’s been done to prepare us homes on Mars or the Moon. I was born in the late 1970s, I should be a space traveller! We all should! As it is it looks like hardly anybody ever will be.

          It’s also annoying that the independent space programs seem to have come so far on a fraction of the budget. What have they got that NASA didn’t have, and why the hell didn’t NASA get some?

          1. +1 LIKE etc etc.
            This times a million.

            “It’s also annoying that the independent space programs seem to have come so far on a fraction of the budget. What have they got that NASA didn’t have, and why the hell didn’t NASA get some?”

            They have NASAs experience to build off. As well as vastly better meterials and computer tech these days.
            Private space progress is fantastic…but remember, anything groundbreaking will be patented. Government stuff will be open. Private can use public knowledge but not visa-versa.

          2. @Thomas Wrobel

            I agree that it becomes a lot easier to do something when it has been proven it can be done (and by extension, even more so if those who did it shares the knowledge). but there might also be a “having less money, and learned to get more out of it”-effect. At some point, if you throw enough money at something, it tends to end up being mismanaged or get lost in bureaucracy. especially in the government sector (it is not their own money they are wasting, unlike private businesses)

            I also agree on your private vs. government observation, even if governments have closed up a lot over the years and have become rather distant from the wishes of regular people. perhaps because (in my view) those in the government are no longer regular people with a country to build, but professional politicians with a purse to fill and an ego to stroke.

    2. Respectfully an example of the unreasonable expectations mankind has created for itself. No it’s not running in reverse, it’s doing what can man can do given current technology. The exploration of the planet didn’t require any break through technology. The technology used to explore the Earth was technology that had already been in use for centuries. Hell it took until 1903 for man started to figure out out to free itself from the limitations of surface travel in a controlled manner Until man discovers new naturally occurring phenomenon, and learns how to exploit them, the moon and nearby asteroids will remain the extent as for we can go with manned exploration. The moon was a cold war project. Been there done that why spend limited Earth resources with no promise of a return of any kind, beyond ragging rights of manned missions ? Unless the robot give us a compelling reasons for manned missions to asteroids, there may never be manned missions to asteroids The US is already using robots, and there are those in our business government elite who would cut any space related funding.

      1. here’s an analogy:

        it takes a baby a few months to learn how to crawl
        it’s 16+ years before that baby can run a marathon

        going to the moon is a crawl
        going to mars is a marathon

  4. With 1960’s technology we went to the moon. Then we stretched and yawned, retired lazily to our easy chairs, turned on the TV and did nothing impressive in the field of human exploration since.

    1. We need a new cold-war to get the major players (countries) back into their chestpounding and frivilious spending on lofty goals :-) nothing drives progress like the need to appear superior to the “others”

        1. Yeah… not so much. I’m talking about “human” i.e. MANNED exploration. At this point we can’t even put a man in orbit even if we needed to. We (the US) have to trot hat in hand to the Russians and beg a ride. I’m sorry I’m a bit bitter about that. I’m probably a good deal older than a lot of readers here. I grew up with such stars in my eyes about the future of space exploration. I watched Niel Armstrong take those first steps on the moon as they occurred. There were lofty predictions of settlements in space and on the Moon. None of that has come to pass and I seriously doubt any of it will in the foreseeable future either. No mankind would rather wallow around here on the surface with a meager outpost floating around in NEO, chasing our petty wars and personal comfort and entertainment rather than expanding our race into the stars and pursuing the calling of the explorer. Thus dies the dreams of a dreamer grown old.

          1. I have to be curious as to the road traveled to where a NASA flight director to authors a post to Hackaday. Risking appearing to be dismissive of Mr. Van Cise, who’s next Neil deGrasse Tyson or some other scientist? Personally I have always thought comparing our space explorers to the exploration of Earth giving the Earth explorers more than their due in the comparison. particularly The European explorers. While they took risks getting there the Europeans where never far from the the natural life support, and they bump into few places where there where no humans surviving. Even those who took the land route to the what we now call the Americas where never far where they could survive. While I understand the point Ed was making with the mill stone analogy, but all one would have to do in that situation was to mill the grain in the manner it had been done for years all over the globe.I’m not ignoring the Polynesian seafarers, but I don’t have the time to confirm my recollections of their history where they may have been the only humans to populate many previously unpopulated islands that where great distances from the original home.

          2. @static

            Every explorer deservers recognition simply for doing an honest try. but space-exploration is done by huge teams on earth and thoroughly educated and trained people in space. much of the exploration you talk about was done by small teams of rather unprepared people – often having no idea what they would discover (and with fear of sea-serpents to boot!). so i think you are being slighly unfair as to how much risk they took and how “far natural life support” they were. Finding America (as an example) have also (as of yet, at least) given a lot more to mankind than space-exploration have (who knows how space exploration would have looked without USA as we know it). Ofcourse it is pretty difficult to compare because it is different times and we can not possibly now understand how they felt back then about the dangers of the world. Remember once sailors actually thought they would sail off the end of the world if they came that far… id say that isa rather riski affair :-)

          3. While I understand because I also seen the moon landing live on TV doesn’t mean I’m anywhere your age. I’m old enough to understand that the romantic notion it’s inherent of the human species(although you said race) to be explorers is the result of social engineering. Hell all creatures on our planet roam beyond their territory looking for a better place so, exploring isn’t a unique human trait. Ideally as one get older one can recognize such romantic dreams they have may not happen in their lifetime and wouldn’t be dismissive of what has role in making those dreams happen eventually, like laboratories in LEO/NEO. The facility is called the International Space Station, and the USA has played a huge role in it, I can’t loose pride aver the fact for a short term the Russia provides the transport, when there’s no denying the USA is the leader in space research. Often lofty predictions are just that. The USA shown it could be a deterrent to anyone who would try to use the moon militarily. Clearly subsequent mission didn’t reveal that moon had anything to over to justify the expense of colonization and what could be learned from colonization could be learned about living outside of Earth at less expense with a habitable artificial satellite. Anyway that’s my take on it all.

          4. @static… The moon actually offers a LOT to those who are not short sighted. Right now it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per kilo of material we lift into space. That is caused mainly because of the depth of our gravity well that is holding that kilo of material on the surface. If we had only continued our exploration of the Moon and perfect lunar prospecting and manufacturing techniques, we could substantially reduce that per kilo cost making things like orbiting communities a far more achievable goal. All of this isn’t just a romantic notion either. All it is going to take is another KT scale event and if we don’t have lifeboat communities elsewhere humans will go the way of the dinosaur. Also because we’ve neglected our space-ward migration, preventing or mitigating such a KT scale event is still utterly impossible.

          5. ” No mankind would rather wallow around here on the surface with a meager outpost floating around in NEO”

            So a space station with a mass of nearly 1 million pounds is a “meager” outpost?

          6. Sorry if this is US centric, but it’s because I’m a US citizen. I can’t know what the moon has or hasn’t to offer. One reason I’m unsure is the lack of effort on the part of the US. Even more than the military it is the business sector that drives the spending of the US government. In the event the US business sector felt the Moon was profitable venture, that would have been a parallel effort with US support of the ISS for be planning moon colonization, a path.

        2. Ah indeed. I was about to mention in another post that part of the lack of advancement is ofcourse budgets. i am not american, but i understand that nasa have not exactly been overfunded the latest years (and the current economy is not exactly amazing either – though it seems to be improving) I am not sure about the commercial vs. gorvernment funded projects, i tend to prefer government funded (with the idea that the government then puts a direction on the whole thing) but it doesnt seem the governments direction is what anyone else wants or needs. but i also have a bad feeling in my stomach about commercial space exploration – because we humans when left “uncontrolled” tend to ruin everything in the search for profit.

          1. Governments should do “science” because there is no money in it.

            Corporations should do “engineering” because they can get someone to pay for it.

            Government should make the space vehicle and train the astronauts.

            Corporations should provide the boost into orbit, this has become an “engineering problem”. They are already providing this service to put satellites into orbit and carry stuff to the ISS. They will be able to do it for far cheaper.

        3. There will be manned exploration. China seems to have long term plans
          for Space. US can try to beat or joint or give up.

          “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not
          because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will
          serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,
          because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are
          unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others,
          too.” – JFK.

          1. It is this lack of a unified (and popular with the people) goal, I am trying to explain elsewhere in this thread, unfortunately my english might be too bad because it seems I am not making myself very clear :(

            It is all well and good that the elite and the top scientists and experts learn more, and i am all for that – even if it does not make money. but that is not how most regular people see it, and we cant keep just getting news about yet another “interresting rock infront of the rover” (which just popped up on another newsfeed coincidently) because that is about as usefull as “i found a potato that looks like obama” to everyone but the people already inside the bubble. (and i do not deny that lots of interresting and novel stuff is probably being discovered and learned, but if the paying public do not see a direct effect of their money paying off, they wont keep paying – thats the issue)


            If you see this, then im sorry i cant make it more clear that i wish you were right that small steps would be enough, but theres simply too many other areas also in progress and just as useful where money can also be spent very well, and if you do not want to do the PR then you will lose funding because people lose interrest. And part of that PR could be to do another amazing feat (amazing to the general public, the ones actually funding this little hobby of yours ;-) And that we do not really disagree as much as it seems from our discussion. It is more a sad fact of reality that you need to shout to be heard – and you need to shout what people want to hear to be liked.

            I do have a minor problem with you saying that I am not “in the loop”, you simply can not expect everyone to be “in the loop” of your choosen interrest. space is just one of many many many subjects i would need to keep up on then… or are you intimately aquainted with every scientific field? It is for the one being funded to prove they deserve the funding, not for the one funding them to try to keep uptodate and their work.

            We are running out of Reply buttons (perhaps a sign that we have discussed too much? :) So it is going to be hard ot actually follow up on the points made in comments im replying to. sorry if it feels like im just letting you hang unanswered a few places.

          2. I’m all for China exploring space. I wish them the best. They have the cash, and a lot of Chinese folks to lose up there too. Mars is pretty big, so I doubt they’ll have it completely colonized for quite a while. Even if they do maybe it’ll be like the wild west all over again someday? That worked out OK for us westerners the last time.

        4. While it’s rarely, if ever mention, I have think most would believe a state of MAD exists between China and the USA. Now that’s known that the USA and the USSR both had military space programs along with their civilian programs, Would be hard to convince that USA couldn’t build a Saturn V rocket if ever needed.

          1. We really do not need a Saturn V again as it’s old tech and the main problem with NASA is it is not fast enough to take advantage of new tech as it comes out due to it’s cultural makeup. Plus the fact that when manned programs were in their heyday computer tech was simple and small and very dumb so you needed a man in the loop to get the mission done. Now that the typical cell phone is many times more powerful than the entire IBM mainframe used to set up and track Lunar missions the game has really switched to “why do we need a man in the loop?” (other that the PR and prestige involved) to actually collect mission data. My Dad was the assistant director at Goddard during the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo era who set up the STDN network and he always questioned the real need for a manned program due to the fact you have to lug 90% more “stuff” out of a steep gravity well to keep the crew alive and all your engineering reliability and testing has to go up to support a manned mission (and heaven help you if the crew buys the farm and the media crucifies the people in charge). And remember, you have to care and feed and maintain a HUGE and expensive infrastructure of engineering and science talent to support a manned effort, many many times larger than the unmanned effort. In the end my Dad had to choose between the manned space effort and the more purely scientific effort as the combination of the two was becoming unwieldy to manage and he could have had dibs on either. He chose unmanned and never looked back and thought that while it had good potential the post Apollo Shuttle was mostly a PR effort to keep the American public’s eyes on the prize while the true science being done was with deep space probes and environmental monitoring. Maybe now were are at a technological point where manned missions will be more practical and they will always have the cache of going where no man has gone before, but you will almost always get more bang for your bucks doing unmanned exploration.

    2. So you don’t think the space station is part of the plan? We proved we can go to the moon. But that is really just a weekend jaunt. The planets are long voyages. Before we can go further we need to figure out how to live and work in space. And what do you think we are doing on the ISS?

      1. Not that i disagree with you. but you have to remember that the going-to-the-moon part was done exactly to prove it, and to do it first – simply for the morale boost. It was a goal set by the president and the whole country was “working on it”, things have slowed down a lot since – because there is no race to the moon anymore – or race to anywhere really – its just “boring” daily work moving slowly forward (as far as groundbreaking discoveries or feats goes anyways)

        1. “things have slowed down a lot since”

          Why do you say stuff like this? It’s just patently not true. Why don’t you compare commercial space activity from 1969 to commercial space activity today. And also look at the international involvement. In 1969 it was just us and the russians. Today just about every advanced country has some sort of space program.

          1. Because all of the advancements seem oriented down toward the surface (better spy cameras, satellite TV and such) and very little of it is outward facing or groundbreaking from the standpoint of propelling our race off this rock.

          2. Comparatively. Once it has been proven possible it becomes infintely easier for others to follow (esp. for allies). And more cars on the roads do not mean the cars are better or going anywhere more interresting, just that there are more people driving.

            If you have your head in the space-related news every day and are interrested in it, sure theres probably interresting stuff happening. but _nothing_ on the scale or importance of the moonlanding – as a regular non-space-geek person, where is the “the whole country^Wworld infront of the tv to watch this historic event”-episode?

            That is why i say slowed down.

          3. “seem oriented down toward the surface”

            and yet we are reading here about progress and advancement in such fundamental areas as electricity generation, long term survival in space, and repairs in space. I really just can’t see where you are coming from when you say these are “surface” things.

          4. “If you have your head in the space-related news every day”

            You started out saying there was a technology problem and now you say it’s a public relations problem because YOU are not “in the loop”

            I think we are better off spending our research money on research instead of “public relations”

          5. “progress and advancement in such fundamental areas as electricity generation, long term survival in space, and repairs in space”

            How are these things of any interrest to regular people? What I said was it slowed down, its less groundbreaking and less interresting, but that does not mean they arent important or required for the next step.

            Yes it is partly a PR issue. Why should i spend time following something i have no interrest in? you make it interresting enough and i will come check it out. if you do not spend money on PR you will stop having any funds because who want to fund a group of geeks going nowhere but learning a lot about going there in the process – that is great stuff scientifically, but if there is nothing coming from it then sooner or later perhaps people think the money could be better spent. That is what the moonlanding did, every kid wanted to be an astronouat. everyone wanted to thow more money at nasa. But nothing really came of it…

          6. And all those advanced countries are doing what? At any given time in the last three decades there has NEVER been more than a handful of humans NOT standing on the planet Earth. Commercial space activity in the States is COMPLETELY robotics, not a single human has made it even to LEO in a non-government run space program. The States are the only ones with robotic explorers past Mars (and that is where they shine, and should focus most/all of their money in moving forward). It’s coming up on almost half a century since man left the moon, and he’s done nothing except circle the earth a few hundred klicks up for all that time. Some have laughed at China’s moon mission as “been there done that”, but the same could be said to the States for their endless waste of time of putting man in LEO for the last three decades. Since they limit any given “stay” to 6 months or less, there is NOTHING more to be learned by putting humans in the ISS and the so called “science” could easily be done at a fraction of the cost with simple satellites. Once again the States label a political boondoggle as Science and the apathetic brain dead voters let them get away with it. The New Horizons mission to Pluto will actually show us new science at a fraction of the cost of a single personal change and resupply to the ISS – why aren’t we doing 6 of those type missions a year instead of the endless repetition of sending a few men up 370 kms?

        2. There’s a pretty cool movie called “The Astronaut Farmer” that explains the problem.
          It’s notg that no one wants to go to space, or that no one can pay for it, it’s that government hates losing control.

        1. If they’d spend less on bombing people, foreigners would be less pissed off (about all the bombing), and a lot less likely to want to attack the USA in the first place (of which the only successful attacks have been individual acts of bombing).

          There’s also the idea that, if you have almost nothing to live for, you don’t mind dying, and going to heaven, which is an amazing place, so much. If someone offered me heaven vs some crappy dirt-farming life, half-starved and full of disease and dying kids, I’d probably take heaven myself. I’d be all the more tempted to believe in it, since the Earthly alternative was so crap and awful.

          You get very few upper-class suicide bombers. If someone has a life worth living, in a nice country, with no war, with education, health, civil amenities and honest police and government, they’re gonna be that much less keen to leave it. Especially as atheists.

          This is probably why very few Americans suicide-bomb Arab countries.

          When they were looking for the Beltway Sniper, they didn’t get the Air Force to bomb Washington DC.

          1. Yes, I do not think most americans realise how much of their culture and believes are being pushed down on other countries (usually with the willingness of the upper class of said countries – I am not entirely blaming americans for this). Just as this article uses very american-centric language (a football-field pretty much anywhere else in the world is what you would call a soccer-field, and they are (afaik) not the same size) It is almost always assumed that readers know american culture as if it were their own – but even closely related cultures are still explained to americans as if they were diametrical opposites. It is very difficult to critique this without coming off sounding anti-american (again, americans seem to take critique of anything american as a personal insult). I usually do not really care that much, but i think this article w/ discussion have pushed me to word some of the more dark extreme thoughts on the subject. Despite what it may seem I do not have any hate for america, or americans in general.

            (when i say “americans” i refer to the stereotype and not the many many reasonable and friendly americans who do not suffer from this “self-esteem” issue)

    3. Do you have any idea what the Apollo missions cost? It was 10% of the federal budget. That is huge! For what? A few hundred pounds of rocks? FFS they could have drove out to Arizona with a shovel and got more rocks in a station wagon than we brought back from the Moon. They are virtually the same rocks too!

      1. Yeah but the only way to get moon rocks, is to GO TO THE FREAKIN’ MOON!

        That itself was the point. And everything we learned about rockets, computers, the systems built into spacesuits, and the million other things, all happened before Neil even put his boots on.

        The rocks have taught us about the likely origins of the Moon, and the formation of the Solar system. Yeah, that doesn’t put Frooty Pebbles on your breakfast table, but some people find that kinda thing interesting.

  5. That is some crazy amount of solar cells. With no atmosphere in the way they must be just cranking out the juice. Are they really using all that electricity, or is this a contingency for 20 years from now when they are mostly riddled with holes from space junk?

    1. They have to charge batteries to last approx 35min in the dark every orbit…the life support is somewhere around 15kW constant power draw so there is a lot of power left over when they’re on the sunny side, since the total output is between 75-90kW…
      However, in the near future (a few years), they will probably install a scaled-down version of the VASIMR engine for keeping it in orbit (needs less fuel then a conventional rocket engine, so it’s cheaper to run), that will up the consumption considerably ;-)

    1. It does seem to be written a bit strange as if to “shoe-horn” it into something we HAD readers wont tear down as “NOT A HACK!1eleventy!”. But its the thought that counts :)

        1. What caught me was the use of the word hack (and i decided not to complain, but since you brought it up…). And no, nothing bad about it as such, its just a bit awkard to read (esp. once you start noticing it). But in the same vein as “its the thought that counts” you could say he at least tried to word it to the target audience. and since i am complaining a bit about the lack of interresting PR elsewhere, i should give him credit for that :) it is not his fault that theres nothing exciting with global interrest going on (as per my opinion anyways)

  6. Cool. Very interesting. After NASA will send to ISS the 3D printer you will see what it is a convenient thing for the solution of unexpected technical difficulties. And especially together with a grinder and an filament extruder for recycling not used plastic parts.

      1. Not sarcasm. Initial plans are for a filament extruder 3D printer. Since the output is always stuck to something, it looks like it’ll work fine in micro-gravity. I believe a grinder and filament extruder is also in the planning stages. The ISS chucks a lot of plastic bags (and other garbage) each year that would be extremely valuable to recycle simply because the bags (and garbage) are already in orbit.

        1. Yes, I read that NASA is going to process this plastic garbage by means of a compact press in anti-radiation screens for station. If they make tubes, packings and an other expendable material of thermoplastic materials like PLA, ABS and so on, by means of the three-dimensional printer will be able to make not only additional elements of a station covering, but also it is a lot of other useful things.

        1. And one mor a bit stupid idea, may be, but why not to try to combine FDM and SLS processes, by extruding thin filament of plastic powder paste and then sintering it with laser? It works for welding pastes, why not to try it for plastic?

          1. Probably easier to stick with a pure SLS process, but modify the powder handling for zero-g. I could see a spinning printer bed or an electrostatic powder hold down working. (i.e. place a negatively charged ITO coated window just over the similarly charged powder box) I expect we’ll see something like that once NASA gets to printing metal parts in space.

          2. Number one, big powerful lasers are maybe a mite dangerous to have flying around up there. Gods help them if something falls off and they end up burning a hole through the wall, or one of the hundreds of pipes and conduits. Laser sintering needs POWERFUL lasers!

            As well as that, there’re no hospitals in space, for any accidents however big or small.

            Number two, existing plastic extruding works fine, especially for simple stuff like pipe couplings and simple levers and whatever else that they might find useful.

  7. “Yeah they can just vent the noxious fumes sintering plastic with a laser on the ISS outside like Mitt Romney wants to do on an airplane. Open the window!”

    No, they can just to use usual FDM for the first time :) Noxious fumes can be filtered like it happens now with soldering fumes (I’m using something similar for my laser cutter, BTW). And for melting plastic less energy needed, than to cut it. I think 1W or 2W laser will be more than enough for this. Or may be not :) It will depend on paste ingredients and properties.

  8. “Probably easier to stick with a pure SLS process”

    Yes, it’s just suggestion. I’m just don’t like to potter with the melted tin, and thinking how to make this process mor controllable. I think that with help of sticky tin paste in syringe and hot air gun it is possible to make soldering a bit easier. I’ve seen the welding pastes which work on similar principal, but can not find the same solution for soldering. May be it just doesn’t exist at all, or imposiible because of some resons, or may be just nobody tried it yet in this way. Tin powder is available for purchase.

  9. You know why it is called the International Space Station and not the USA Space Station? Because it is an INTERNATIONAL space station… Just saying because this article doesn’t seem to be very international and I find it a bit offensive. I was under the impression, that Hack A Day was generally not so US-centric, but this article is obviously targeted to a general american (I really don’t know how big a football field is or how far it is from Houston to Dallas etc.).
    It is also interesting, how the propaganda from the Cold War is still a bit alive, when it comes to such itchy themes like this.
    Otherwise an interesting article and a interesting discussion…

      1. “Donate” a few $ (more like a couple of hundred grand) to them and they’ll happily send almost anything, it’s not like the crew will complain for having a new toy :D

    1. @Matouš – Why don’t you post a cost breakdown of who pays what to build and maintain the INTERNATIONAL space station, and then have this discussion. If we’re all just equal partners, why does nasa pay millions to russia for personal transport and resupplies? And that payment is definately not “cost reimbursement” or even cost plus – it’s at a significant profit markup. Hence the move to local commercial vendors. The name, like pretty much everything else about the ISS, is just political bs.

      1. I dont know (nor care enough to bother looking up) who pays most (i live in a 5mill people country so it would stand to reason we could not possibly get as much money togehter as USA) But there is also a lot of knowledge bought with said money (like paying to get a russian expert up there, teaching the americans on some subject)

        But it is sad considering that the goal is for man to reach space (and beyond), that we quibble about something as irrelevant as borders on earth. And I can only agree that it is 99% political bull. Now i personally do not think we need to go into space, But that does not mean i think people who want to try shouldnt, that we should not fund it, or that there is nothing usefull coming out of it (both for space endaveours, but also for those of us on the ground)

        But the “it is my ball so my rules” attitude is not gonna get you far if you stand there alone with your ball and nobody wants to play your game :-)

        /scandinavian socialist commie hippie with too many opinions on mostly irrelevant stuff :-).

      2. We pay the Russians because it is cheaper than keeping tabs on those scientists. If they weren’t working in the RKA they’d be building missiles for someone else. Likely someone we don’t want them building missiles for too. Which is just about anyone.

      3. Yeah I don’t argue who pays the most or has the biggest part on this, although I have been in several museums of the European space program and I think we have our bit of work up there as well.
        The point was, that this article in general is targeted at US audience quite heavily, which is the thing that bothers me, because one thing I like on HackADay is that it isn’t as US-centric as most of the other US media (not that it would be a wrong thing, but it makes it a lot more readable for me).

        1. It seems very important to vonskippy (is that german blood in your veins giving you that name?) that USA gets full credit for throwing the most money at it. Just like they invented the atomic bomb by importing nazi-scientists to do the thinking. Its a typical capitalistic view that the money is all that matters, and the people doing the actual head- and leg-work are unimportant. You see the same in corporations all around the world. Thankfully non-americans are still usefull for one thing; someone americans without enough selfesteem can compare themself to and feel they are better. I hope vonskippy’s spouse makes exactly the same money in income as he, wouldnt want it to be an unequal partnership after all ;-)

          Like paying a carpenter to build you a porch and then taking the credit “I build a new porch”.

          Thankfully there are still plenty of americans with less narrowminded worldviews. And HAD (though i never considered it american-centric media) does seem to be one of the better places. (I suppose now one could argue i am a narrowminded non-american, but so be it :-)

    2. It’d be more effective with it’s planned complement of 5 crew members, not just the 2 who spend much of their time keeping the thing running. It’s apparently due to lack of evacuation capacity, they need to be able to get everyone off in an emergency. Some sort of lifeboat was planned to address this. Of course it was cut from the budget.

      So the ISS is burning away it’s lifetime up there, hundreds of orbiting tonnes, on a skeleton crew. Losing the war for the want of a nail, basically. Politicians are such geniuses, and millionaire businessmen certainly make good custodians for a country. You have to feel sorry for those countries where a bunch of corrupt greedy assholes are in charge..

      [when I sarcasm, I do it thick!]

    3. The USA, and possibly North Korea, is just about the only country where patriotism is automatically seen as a good thing. Innately worthy and with no negatives. Even in a simple light, and in comparison to other values and needs.

      They spend every day brainwashing themselves into it. No other country (except maybe North Korea. Or China) has so many damn flags around the place. So much media repeating the same values.

      Why is “my” country better than all those other countries? As the great man said, “my parents fucked there!”. It didn’t choose you and you didn’t choose it. And given a choice there’s other countries I’d live in than my own (I’m not American to start with, and I certainly wouldn’t move there). Patriotism’s a trick pulled on you by those with power, to steal loyalty from you that they haven’t earned.

      1. Interesting opinion :D It is true, that the flag stuff in schools and all the hymn-singing and patriotic stuff-reciting would probably be very much looked down upon here in ČR and not taken seriously…

  10. I actually agree that we shouldn’t have manned space missions.

    1.) There’s nowhere worthwhile to go in our solar system.

    2.) Base don our current understanding of physics, inter-stellar travel is highly unlikely.

    The ISS exists to research microgravity. Something useful for robotic probes, something we actually should be doing. The moon missions existed to prove we could, and to show our power.

    Anyone who hates on NASA doesn’t understand that they’ve dedicated almost their entire budget to doing something actually practical, and probably doesn’t know anything about NASA at all. They’re putting a space telescope / observatory 10X bigger than the Hubble 1.5 million miles orbiting at the L point on the outside of our orbit. It’s called the James Webb.

    Since we can’t go, and probes can only bugger around with out own system, we should be focusing on looking. Since we can’t travel, we let the light do it for us. There’s a lot to learn in that avenue.

    1. I disagree on nowhere worthwhile to go. A Mars or Moon base would be amazing. Among many things, on Mars it’d be a backup in case the asteroid that’s gonna kill us all finally gets here. And it’d give us the knowledge we need to set up colonies around other stars, if we ever find a way of getting there. Closed-cycle living systems will enable generation ships, and will be needed on any spaceships of a decent size. And a breakthrough on nuclear fusion, which has been due for 40 years or so, would make the helium-3 on the Moon a viable resource.

      Lots of things have been impossible according to physics til some smarty-pants figures out how to sneak past it. As much as anything it’s the desire to do it that drives the discovery. Ye cannae change the laws of physics, but we don’t actually know all of them.

      Thought it has to be said the lack of aliens is depressing, I’d expect them to be here if it was possible. Unless the old theory’s true, and they’ve all formed a club to keep us out because we’re stupid. Plenty of reason for them to think that. Maybe only post-scarcity societies, or at least ones that aren’t massively unfair, get to join.

      Even if we can only get as far as our own planets, we may as well, there’s nowhere else to go. Just for the sake of it. The planet can afford it, though we’d need some heavy financial re-organising. Metal, hydrogen and geniuses. There’s enough of them about.

      1. I do not believe we have a need to go elsewhere, but those with the desire should certainly try. And it is ‘worthwhile’ regardles of not being a ‘need’.

        I also doubt anyone but the top 1% would be saved from a cataclysmic event causing us to flee the planet – The rest of us will just be collateral damage (we can already move people around on earth insanely quick with planes, do you see us trafficing all the people out of hunger/disease-plagued areas and moving them to safer places? no, not unless they are rich westeners). Or the rich moving to planet-of-choice and the poor staying back on earth, an earth that is now a dumping-ground for trash and unwanted people from the off-earth utopia That does however solve the issue i am about to bring up…

        Overpopulation; Moving everyone elsewhere will just move the problems we already have here on earth to that place – it may be we get to a larger planet that can sustain our growth a bit longer, but unltimately we would be in the same situation as here on earth. So at best we get a few thousand years more as a race. Some consider this important , but I kinda think it is irrelevant – making it an ideology/political question.

        Aliens; I am open to the possibility. They may be few and far between. but i find it unlikely that earth is the only planet with life (intelligent or otherwise). Since we have barely moved off the planet, Alien races on other planets might be just as “earth”-bound as we are. And we have barely “left the garage”, how can we know if someone lives in a city miles and miles away? :-)

        tl;dr: It is worthwhile and in theory a good thing. it will not change human nature and we will probably not be any better off, it will just be a slightly different way to live. It will almost certainly not make any difference to the ‘hierachy’ we already have seperating the rich from the poor – the vast majority will see no improvement whatsoever. But despite that, it is still worth dropping a few coins that way – if nothing else it keeps those pesky engineers and geniuses off the streets and out of trouble. Idle hands are the devils playthings (i believe the saying goes :-)

  11. after observing natural and unnatural elements and how they act in motion I can see that going to moon was a little speedup and then these years are slowdown now whenever it’ll pick it up again it’s gonna be very fast so what i’m saying is in few years space related operation will greatly speedup therefore lots of achievement in just few years.

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