A few weeks back I was replacing a valve cover gasket on a race car and accidentally rounded off a bolt that was in a hard-to-reach spot. I was working on that bolt in the garage and it took me hours of cursing and trips to the hardware store to get the damaged bolt out and a new one in. I have a deep appreciation for what astronauts aboard the ISS have been going through as they struggled with a damaged bolt on the outside of the orbiting space station.
In the weightlessness of space, and with no Home Depot nearby, I can only imagine the ISS astronauts wanted to curse and throw tools, just as I did. They had to remain calm, and thankfully had a team of engineers to help work on a fix. The problem was that a bolt that held a replacement power unit to the main truss of the space station was cross-threaded and wouldn’t tighten properly.
The astronauts conducted a spacewalk this week and successfully repaired the damage bolt and attached the replacement power unit to the outside of the space station. Since the hardware store was hundreds of miles below, the astronauts had to create improvised tools. The tools were made from spare parts aboard the station and a toothbrush. The astronauts also used a pressurized can of nitrogen gas the blow metal shavings out of the bolt receptacles. It’s like an episode of MacGyver in space.