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An astronaut’s guide to out-of-Earth manufacturing

Written by  Sunday, 07 March 2021 12:50
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Sawing launch bolt

Improvising new stuff from the stuff you have is part of an astronaut’s job description – think Apollo 13’s crew refitting CO2 filters to save their own lives, or stranded Mark Watney in The Martian, feeding himself on the Red Planet. Now plans are underway to manufacture items in orbit, and ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst argues this could make a big difference to living and working in space.

International Space Station
International Space Station

Figuring out a fix

He described the ISS as a symbiosis of humans and robotic systems, with human bringing the skills that robots do not have – especially when something goes wrong.

“For instance, we worked on more than 600 different scientific experiments during my Blue Dot and Horizons missions to the ISS, but one I’m particularly fond of is the Electromagnetic Levitator, a microgravity furnace for metals. It feels a little bit like my baby: it was a lot of work to install in the European Columbus Laboratory, because a bolt securing it in place for the launch got stuck during the installation, and threatened the entire experiment.

“After a lot of analysis we decided to saw off the bolt, and I suggested to cover the saw blade with my shaving gel – to catch any metal shavings which otherwise would have been floating around dangerously.

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