Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Did You Secure It? Are You Sure?

On the starship, our biggest worry is riggers on one of the smaller masts dropping something when we're underweigh. Pick the right vector, and hey-presto, it hits the field interface and it's gone, bit of sparkle and if it's big enough, an awkward half-hour with the Old Man and the Drive/Navs boffins: lost mass and a random vector can play hob with our course -- but you'd have to drop a darned big something for it to be more than annoying. Pick a worse vector and maybe someone gets started by a thud or tolling of the hull. Pick the wrong one and.... Well, they say rapid decompression's a quick death, but not quick enough. This is why the riggers generally keep their tools and otherwise-unattached materials on lines clipped to the booms or to themselves.*

Back in the headlines, in the official, public space program, it's a simpler world but even less forgiving. As a NASA astronaut found out when a tool bag -- a more or less full tool bag -- got shoved and drifted away in zero-G. And it didn't have a line on it. And she didn't see it until it was out of reach. Wave bye-bye! And now it's one more thing to look out for around ISS. Per the report, it was a SNAFU from the git-go: a container of grease had given way and those lovely white-and-stainless NASA tools were greasy and gloppy, bad enough under pressure and barehanded and a nightmare working with the gloves on the kinds of spacesuits NASA and the Russians are issuing.

If there's are lessons here, one is, "You can't train for everything;" this was yet another of the NASA jobs that the team had done and done and done on Earth, some of it in the big water tank, every step worked out, every problem anyone thought of addressed. And the other lesson is that being highly skilled and highly trained doesn't mean you won't get distracted and make mistakes. It's what you do next that counts -- in this case, not going haring off after the greasy bag as it drifted out of reach was the right decision. It's a long walk home and they had duplicates of all the critical items.
* Some fine day I'll explain the complex arrangement of these vast starships, rough teardrop shapes about ten miles by five, just within the maximum scope and shape of a Level Two spacewarp. Standard thrust is applied at 90 degrees to the warp field, so the ship has a conventional and definite "up" and "down" and thanks to the elegant trickery of Feynman/Hawking "wormhole tunneling" (which actually isn't -- but don't ask me, I just change fuses and hit it with a hammer when it goes wonky), we get to add that vector to the warp on any angle we choose. It's a two-fer, gravity and fine maneuvering control: made of win! Or it could all be an elaborate joke.


Anonymous said...

By the way: It's Regroes.

Riggers is just rude.

Roberta X said...

Srsly, about half the tech staff refers to the tower workers as "sky monkeys." It's meant as a term of praise.

Anonymous said...

hehe! Yep. Easy to see why, too. I have never been above 35', and I have no intention of doing so, ever.

Crucis said...

Jeez, where have these folks been? Anyone who has ever read any Science Fiction knows you alway tether yourself and your tools lest they drift away.

We need more SF readers at NASA!

WV: climiza as in NASA has a climiza of fail.

Anonymous said...

And, when you get right down to it, the tools are eventually going to get back to Earth regardless.

Might not be usable, but do not confuse me with the details.

The Captain said...

An Army officer of my acquaintance used lanyards to secure *everything* to his person. Pistol, of course, but also his knife, leatherman, map pouch, compass... everything. He couldn't go twenty feet in the woods without getting caught on something.

Roberta X said...

There's the rub, Captain. I was wondering if anyone would mention it. Trying to secure everything all the time in an environment where you are working in heavy gloves, a bulky suit and have limited visibility creates another set of problems: how to avoid getting gaught in your own web! All the more so when working around large moving parts like the solar cell array the ISS astronauts were trying to fix.