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STS 115 Space Shuttle used by Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper

STS 115 Space Shuttle used by Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper

As a NASA astronaut, Piper was exposed to several complicated and expensive pieces of equipment. It all starts before even lift off for her. Zero gravity rooms were used to prepare her for her flight during her two years of training. These rooms essentially turn off gravity making the room feel like space. While she trained she also became very familiar with the NASA space suit. These expensive but very safe pieces of equipment kept her from the hostile environment of outer space. The NASA space suit allows her body to have a pressurized atmosphere, gave her oxygen, removed the carbon dioxide from her body, protected her from fast moving meteor rocks and allowed her to stay in contact with not only her fellow astronauts but ground control as well.  To become acquainted with the space suit, she trained underwater in a replica of the International Space Station underwater. Her job was to connect power cables and preparing the station for power generation while wearing the space suit. Days before liftoff she began practicing in an M-133 personnel carriers to mimic emergency situations. These carriers are essentially tanks without weapons that astronauts can practice quick escape methods in. Since the ride is bumpy, it can mime situations in space which call for quick escape. Once launch day came, she climbed into perhaps the most expensive equipment she will ever use in her life, the NASA space shuttle. These massive $42 million machines that were designed in the 1970s are safer than ever. Inside the shuttle guiding systems made of four different computers are used. If one were to fail, three other will take its place, etc. However, if all of them failed, a fifth computer is then activated to insure safety. These guiding systems allow the pilot to locate their target path as well as where they are with respect to earth. Outside the spacecraft is where the primary safety equipment is located.  The bottom of the space shuttle is made of a silicone based ceramic-bonded composite that actually consists mostly of air, coated with black borosilicate glass. The outer body is made of “Silica Ceramic Tiles, which can withstand temperatures as high as 3000°F (1650°C)” (Jason, 30) While in outer space, she continued to use the NASA space suit and expand the space station. She was connected to the space shuttle to insure she would not drift into outer space while space walking. This equipment was known as safety tethers. While working outside, every astronaut is attached at the waist with a 25-foot tether made of heat-resistant webbing. The tether attaches to handrails built into the station’s truss. The system also includes a cable that can reel out as needed. Maximum load is 878 pounds which is enough to hold the astronaut plus equipment stowed in a toolbox, which NASA workers call an “extravehicular mobility unit.” (Jason, 40) Some of the other tethers served as tool belts. Without these short tethers, equipment could potentially fly into the shuttle or other astronauts which would be chaotic. The main tool used by spacewalkers is a 21st century hand-drill, built by Swales Aerospace Inc. These hand drills have a large information screen where Astronauts can program the speed and torque. The torque has a range from less than 1 to 38 foot-pounds of force, and the drill can run at anywhere between 5 and 60 rotations per minute. There are rechargeable battery slots where metal hydride batteries can hold more charge at extreme temperature which are perfect for space since the temperature varies a lot due to the shadow and sunlight fluctuation. The body is made of a durable, glass-infused plastic called Lexan. (Jason, 35) The whole thing is covered with aluminum tape for durability. NASA began developing the requirements for the three-pound tool in 1993 to make repairing the Hubble Space Telescope easier. It was first used in space in 1997.

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