Sunday, February 05, 2006

2001 comes around at last...

I just read this report in the Moscow Times :

A spacesuit tossed out of the international space station was supposed to float through space, talking to radio operators around the globe.

The suit, stuffed with old clothes and a radio transmitter, orbited Earth twice on Friday, giving off faint signals to Japan. But then the suit, called Ivan Ivanovich, apparently went silent.

"It may have ceased operating very shortly after its deployment," said NASA spokesman Rob Navias.

Navias speculated that the suit's batteries might have become too cold.

The Russian Orlan spacesuit, stuffed with rags and other trash, was released early Saturday Moscow time.

It looked like an astronaut tumbling helplessly 350 kilometers above the central Pacific Ocean, beginning a gentle downward spiral that will end in four to seven months when it incinerates in Earth's atmosphere.

Its transmitter was to broadcast a limited lineup: First an announcement via voice synthesizer that said, "This is SuitSat-1, RSORS," followed by greetings in English, French, Japanese, Russian, German and Spanish with "special words" for students to decode.

Then SuitSat was to relay its vital signs in English -- temperature, available battery power, the elapsed time of the mission.

The whole thing was to take 30 seconds, after which SuitSat was to rest 30 seconds and broadcast again.

SuitSat arose in late 2004 as the brainchild of the Russian space station team and the Space Radio Amateur Satellite Corp., a nonprofit that promotes education and amateur radio satellites.

Unlike the United States, which recycles its spacesuits, the Russians use Orlans for about two years and then discard them.

The Russians suggested a variation on this theme: Why not hook up radio gear to an old suit, toss it into space and make a satellite out of it?

International space station commander William McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev began the second spacewalk of their six-month stay aboard the space station at 1:44 a.m. on Saturday.

Its primary purpose was to secure a cable cutter on the mobile transporter that moves the station's robot crane.

But first they had to get rid of SuitSat. The old spacesuit, weighing several hundred kilograms, had last been used by NASA astronaut Michael Foale during an August 2004 spacewalk.

On Friday, a radio antenna poked out the top of the backpack.

The idea of a quick departure was apparently a good one, for SuitSat first got in the way of closing the airlock door, then balked at being wrestled into position.

Finally, with video cameras recording the event, it was gone.

"Wonderful picture, Valery," mission control said. "Thank you very much."

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