How Are Repairs Made in Outer Space

I love space travel, its history and progress. I want to know every little detail—not just about the people, but the science behind the process. I have dealt with spacesuits and toilets in the past. I have talked about astronaut food and what they do in their spare time. I got to thinking about repairs in space and had no idea that some could be remedied with simple welding.

You can do most anything in space as we have seen, even welding. The Russians were the first to try. Imagine that something goes wrong and you must attach a piece of metal to the hull of the spacecraft. Any repairs are challenging for astronauts, but welding! How you ask given the lack of atmosphere, temperature, and gravity. There is a way. This is the subject of today’s blog, so stay alert.

Anything can happen when the crew are out of the earth’s protective grip. The prospect of welding in a looming, freezing void is beyond reason—and ever so fascinating. On a Soviet mission on Soyuz 6, the astronauts tested the welding process first in a depressurized environment. You would think that the spacecraft could withstand the rigors of space travel given the materials like ceramic and aluminum. Even if it can it is no match for a Russian with an arc welder like the ones on this web site. One of the crew accidentally burned a hole in the side of the living compartment during the test almost hurtling them into open space.

After their tests, the Soyuz 6 crew found that welding was entirely possible off-planet; but it wasn’t easy with an electron beam gun. Things were tough and they didn’t know what to do with the spatter so NASA was reluctant to follow suit and recommend it for emergency repairs. Nonetheless, it had to admit its value. Great care is given to outfitting the spacecraft with a lightweight hand-held torch gun that can solder, weld, and cut when needed in with limited room within or outside in space.

It gets complicated when you think about the gases in zero gravity. Remember that it is an airless environment. What do you use as a power source? You can’t use a portable generator because it has to be air cooled. NASA had to create a new kind of variable power laser welder/torch for space application that doesn’t use gas. It is compact, effective, and easy to maneuver. As you can imagine, the laser allows the astronauts to operate the device with exacting precision.

Given what I have read, and the Russian horror story, why not prevent the repair problems in the first place. If NASA can build a sturdy ship to begin with, welding dangers can be avoided unless it is a dire emergency. As the decades roll by, I am amazed at what technology has done and how many problems have been solved. American ingenuity is indeed in action.

Careers in Space!

Did that title get your attention? That was our plan! While it is a fun hobby for a lot of people, some of us think it would be pretty great to get paid to look at the stars. Perhaps we’d like to talk about them for a living. Maybe we’d like a job designing rockets and spaceships. Or even go up into space ourselves! In this post, we wanted to talk a little about what you can do with a degree in astronomy.

A little over half of the people with astronomy degrees stay in the academic field. They work at universities and colleges, or observatories that are affiliated with schools. Mostly, they teach students in astronomy or physics. They also can perform their own research using the school’s facilities. Schools like this because if you discover something or your research is published, it looks good for the program and the school itself. As a result, much of the academic research available in the field is by faculty at higher education facilities.Those two reasons, plus the relative job security of tenure,make this a good career option.

You can also be hired at a federal level. There are national observatories and government laboratories that will hire astronomers or physicists to help conduct research. National observatories typically encourage personal research in addition to other duties like operating large scale telescopes and working with other scientists. If you are working for the federal government, however, your field of interest will likely be controlled by your employer. NASA, the Naval Observatory, and places like that have precise purposes. You won’t have as much freedom, but you will probably have better benefits and job security than if you’re working at a national observatory or somewhere that is federally-funded.

Some of the equipment used in places like the space program are made by outside industries. There are several private aerospace companies that need astronomers to help them conduct research and design equipment. Astronomers are also appealing hires in this field because they are critical and logical thinkers who to be experienced in mathematics and physics in addition to astronomy. While your job might not be as secure as with some of the other options we’ve discussed, the pay tends to be better in the private sector.

You can also work somewhere like we do, at a planetarium or at a science museum. You might give tours or demonstrations, or even conduct classes on the proper use of telescopes. Although you may not receive notoriety like you may at a big research facility, or make the big bucks like if you were at a private aerospace company, you interact with the general public more and may just inspire someone to one day make the next great space discovery!

All About the Moon

When we’re little, we have some really interesting ideas about the moon. It follows us at night. It gets smaller and bigger, and sometimes it disappears. Maybe it’s made of cheese, or there’s a man on the moon. There are the obvious things we can debunk right away—the moon’s not following you around, it is an optical illusion because of its distance relative to you when you are in motion; the moon’s not made of cheese; and although man has been on the moon, it only looks like it has a face because of the craters on its surface.

But what else do we know?

Well, here’s a cool fact: you’re always looking at the same hemisphere of the moon. The moon rotates (spins) at the same rate that it revolves (travels in a loop) around the earth. The other side of the moon isn’t actually “dark,” it is just facing away from us.

So, if we’re always seeing the same side of the moon, what makes it change shape? The amount of light hitting the moon at any given time. This is what causes the moon to slowly disappear (waning) and reappear (waxing) in the sky. It takes about 27 days for the moon to complete its path, but since the earth is moving as well, to us it looks like 29 days.

OK, now we’ve told you how the moon moves and appears to change shape. But how did we even get the moon? Well, the theory most scientists agree on is that something roughly the size of Mars collided with Earth about 4.5 billion years ago. The debris that resulted formed our moon. It has a partially molten core consisting of mostly iron, and then what’s called a mantle between that and the surface—probably made up of things like olivine and pyroxene. Then there is the crust, which is made up of things like magnesium, calcium, iron, and silicon. That means there really is no cheese on the moon.

Wonder what life would be like on the moon?

Unfortunately, it would be pretty hard to live there. For starters, the atmosphere is a lot thinner than ours. That creates two immediate problems: you would not be able to breathe, nor would you be protected from the sun’s radiation. Assuming you had a space suit to help you with those things, it would also have to regulate your body temperature: where the sun’s full light shines on the moon, temperatures reach about 260˚F, and can reach -280˚F in darkness.

But even the best space suit wouldn’t help you with the next hazard: the thin atmosphere also provides no protection from things like asteroids and comets (unlike Earth, where many of these things burn up before ever coming close to us). That’s why the moon has so many craters, and the surface is littered with rocks and boulders. There’s also no water to speak of, so you’d have to bring your own. Without water, a food supply would also be difficult to maintain, so that’s something else you’d have to bring with you.

Your next challenge would be gravity. The forces holding you down are much weaker, only about 1/6th of the gravity of Earth. Meaning, you would weigh six times less on the moon. That’s why, despite their heavy equipment, astronauts on the moon look like they’re practically floating as they walk. It could make doing even simple activities much more difficult. It something was too light, it would simply float away. With the right technology, life could be possible for us on the Moon, but it would bring with it significant challenges,

Now you know a few more facts about the moon. Think about them the next time you look up into the sky at night!