Link #147: Astronauts Took Control Of A Wayward Satellite By Using Their Hands!

Astronaut on spacewalk
Image credit: NASA/Public Domain.


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Link #147: Astronauts Took Control Of A Wayward Satellite By Using Their Hands!

Astronaut on spacewalk
Image credit: NASA/Public Domain.

Space is, indeed, the final frontier for humanity. The most astonishing feats, discoveries, and inventions in the future will occur in space. In our last post, we described the almost successful Soviet effort to put a real Death Star type space station in orbit around Earth. Humans have tried many such things before and since the Polyus – Skyf. One of our great feats was to capture a wayward satellite without any equipment and with hands!

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Why Is It A Big Deal?

Image credit: nate steiner/CC0 1.0

We use our hands on an everyday basis so it may not seem like a big deal to us. However, in space, it’s a big deal for an astronaut to capture a satellite without any equipment. The reason for this is that every move and function in space tends to be pre-planned to the utmost detail.

Usually, if astronauts don’t have to improvise in space, then it means that the mission was a resounding success. Everything is planned in advance because doing something off the bat in space can be dangerous.

There’re many things that can go wrong such as disconnect of the tying line, suit related problems, equipment related problems, and any number of unforeseeable problems.

How Did Three Astronauts Use Their Hands To Capture Intelsat 603?

Intelsat 603
Astronauts working on Intelsat 603 during STS-49. Image credit: NASA/Public Domain.

So, what happened that astronauts had to take such drastic step in space and risk their mission? The mission of the STS-49 crew was to capture a wayward satellite using a capture bar, repair it, and release it in the right orbit. The wayward satellite in question here was the Intelsat 603.

Unfortunately, while in space, the astronauts couldn’t capture the Intelsat 603 with their capture bar. The mission specifics had only scheduled one spacewalk for capturing the Intelsat 603. However, when the first spacewalk failed, the astronauts tried again with an unscheduled spacewalk. Sadly, this one also failed.

As a result, the astronauts decided to take the matter into their own hands (literally). They decided to give it a third try but this time without the capture bar. Pierre J Thuot, Richard J Hieb, and Thomas D Akers would step out for the third spacewalk and catch the Intelsat 603 successfully.

This effort required the three astronauts to not only use their hands but also delicate manoeuvring of the orbiter by their commander Daniel C Brandenstein. The third effort was successful with the astronauts going on to attach a perigee kick motor on the Intelsat 603 and repairing its orbit. In the process, the STS-49 crew would set many records.

How Was the STS-49 Crew’s Spacewalk Record-Breaking?

STS-49 crew. Image credit: NASA/Public Domain.

The STS-49 crew’s unscheduled, third spacewalk set many records. The foremost of these records was that it was the first spacewalk involving three astronauts. Another great feat was that it was the longest spacewalk in space history. This record was overtaken in 2001 by the STS-102 but the first record still holds.

Other notable highlights of the STS-49 was that it was the first mission of the space shuttle Endeavour, first space mission to involve four spacewalks, and the first mission involving a rendezvous between a shuttle and an orbiting spacecraft.

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