Astronauts Frederick H. Hauck and George D. Nelson struggled through a rehearsal Saturday of what may be one of their toughest tasks of the entire flight of the shuttle Discovery: Getting dressed to go home.
The astronauts have bulky new spacesuits for launch and re-entrythat include built-in parachutes, emergency provisions and even lifeboats. Every member of the all-male crew knows that on the ground all a person has to do to put on a pair of pants is stand first on one leg and then on the other.
But in the weightless environment of the space shuttle, astronauts drift around, sometimes bouncing off the floor, sometimes off the ceiling. So officials were concerned over just how hard it might be to put on the spacesuit when the astronaut cannot stand up and do it like a man.
Saturday, Hauck and Nelson found out.
“It was not an easy task,” one official said after watching television transmissions of the two men twisting and sweating as they grunted their way into the bright orange suits.
To make matters worse, the temperature is warm inside the spacecraft because of a failed cooler. Saturday, it ranged in the low 80s.
“They are warm,” Nelson said of the $125,000 spacesuits at one point. “There’s no doubt about that.”
“Roger, Pinky, it looks like you can work up a pretty good sweat just putting it on,” answered Mission Control. Pinky is Nelson’s nickname.
Bumping Into Each Other
Astronauts John M. Lounge and David C. Hilmers tugged at a wide assortment of straps and buckles as they tried to help their colleagues. Pilot Richard O. Covey was nowhere to be seen as the four other crewmen bumped into each other in the crowded orbiter.
The chore proved challenging but not impossible. It took Hauck about 10 minutes to accomplish it. Early Monday morning, the astronauts will get to do it all over again as they prepare for their 9:37 a.m. landing at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.
In comparison to the crews of earlier spaceflights, the astronauts generally had a pretty slow day as they cruised around the globe at 17,300 m.p.h.
But back on the ground, it was a terrific day for Lloyd C. Bruce, a senior at the University of Missouri. While still in high school, Bruce wondered if a metal like titanium would be stronger if it melted and then resolidified in a weightless environment.
Gains Corporate Sponsor
He took his idea to NASA as part of the shuttle student experiment program, and McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. agreed to sponsor it.
The idea behind the experiment is that the strength of a metal is determined partly by its crystalline structure and the grains that make up that structure should be more perfectly distributed if allowed to form in a weightless environment.
The experiment consists of four glass tubes, each with a titanium wire filament. Aboard Discovery, Lounge hooked each of the tubes up to a battery and hit each wire with exactly the same charge.
The wires were of two different lengths and the longer wires turned bright yellow as they were heated by the charge. But the shorter wires got so hot they melted because the current was concentrated over a shorter distance.
“I expected that,” Bruce said. The wires returned to a solid form as they cooled.
The wires will be sent to McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, where they will be compared to other titanium wires from an identical experiment on the ground.
Bruce said he expects the alloy from the shuttle’s samples to be the strongest. If he is right, it could mean that stronger metals could be produced in space than on Earth, and that could be important in the years ahead when orbiting factories are expected to serve a wide range of needs.
Today, the astronauts will complete several experiments and begin preparations for landing.