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Time-wasting Nerd Fun

I haven’t got much done these last few days. I’ve been too busy watching the Nasa TV live feed from the Hubble servicing mission.

Hubble attached to the shuttle bay with the Earth in the background

The problems they have on a mission like this are so wonderfully groan-in-sympathy familiar: stuck bolts. Like working on old plumbing, with the same issues. They’re too professional to say it, but if I was in the control room there’d be a lot of, “Watch out! Don’t strip that thing. Omigod. You stripped it.” And so on.

Yesterday, Mike Massimino had to get at a failed power card inside the telescope. It wasn’t designed for removal, so the access plate was held down with over a hundred screws of a bunch of different sizes, which was itself behind a great big steel bar of a handhold on the surface of the telescope. The steel bar had a stuck bolt. It would not come off.

They have mockups on the ground of the same setup. Some smart tech figured out you could break the whole thing off. They showed video. The thing snapped with a bang like a rifle and shot across the room.

I love the language they use in the astronaut business. When they were going back and forth about this maneuver with Massimino on the telescope — a maneuver that could shred his suit and the telescope if it went wrong — ground Control said, “We’re a bit concerned about the stored energy in the handhold.”

One of the striking things, watching the astronauts work, is how slowly everything goes. They move slowly, slowly, slowly, like fish in glycerin. They can barely bend their hands to grasp tools because of all the pressure keeping them alive inside their suits. But when I was watching Massimino on that one space walk, everything seemed way speeded up. At first I thought they were running file footage at double speed. Then I learned he’s from New York.

And now, folks, sorry, but I have things to do. Got to watch them putting the new thermal insulation “blankets” around all that great new equipment they’ve successfully put in. As Jack Horkheimer says, “Keep looking up!” There’ll be great new Hubble pics coming out of this.