$3 toothbrush saves day for $100 billion space station (Lead, Changing dateline)

September 6th, 2012 - 6:32 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Sep 6 (IANS) A $3 toothbrush, ‘designed’ by astronauts Sunita Williams and Akihido Hoshide, saved the day for a $100 billion International Space Station, becoming instrumental in the installation of a vital part for relaying power.

Trouble began last week, when Williams and Hoshide were trying to replace a malfunctioning electrical unit, called a main bus switching unit (MBSU) which is used to harness energy from the outpost’s solar arrays.

But with one of the electrical units malfunctioning, the space station had limited power to use and astronauts were called on to replace it with a new one. Williams and Hoshide had been working Aug 30 to install a new MBSU but faced hurdles in bolting the new unit down to the spacecraft.

It appeared that there was significant debris, especially metal shavings, that had accumulated inside the bolts and was preventing them from attaching it to the space craft and securing the MBSU.

Hoshide was able to manoeuver a wire cleaner around one of the bolt holders, that loosed a lot of metal shavings but it just wasn’t enough, he told the NASA team back in Houston, the Daily Mail reports.

Their repeated attempts to clean out the bolts drew out their space walk to a daunting eight hours.

“Over 10 hours in the suit. No bathroom and no lunch,” Williams wrote in her blog about the ordeal, about the total time she was suited up for space.

So the space team, along with their colleagues at NASA back on earth put their heads together to figure out a way to fix the problem. They decided the outer space team needed to do some deep cleaning and the idea for the toothbrush tool was born - fastening a simple toothbrush to a metal pole. On Wednesday, Williams and Hoshide took to cleaning the bolts.

After about four hours of intense scrubbing, the bolts were pristine and the pair were able to successfully attach the MBSU. “Looks like you guys just fixed the station,” astronaut Jack Fischer radioed from Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

The International Space Station is currently home to six astronauts: Williams and Joe Acaba of NASA, Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Yuri Malenchenko and Sergei Revin.

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