How a Zero-Gravity Omega Watch Repair Revolutionized NASA’s Space Station Fixes

Don Pettit’s delicate Omega restore aboard the ISS required holding minuscule watch components down with duct-tape.{Photograph}: NASA

“I paid my approach by means of school as a diesel mechanic for a logging outfit, so I really feel snug with mechanical issues and electrical issues, taking them aside and fixing them. I figured all of it out myself. I did not have any directions,” Pettit says. “As you’ll be able to hear within the watch-repair video, I make the remark: ‘The instrument you employ on the frontier to repair it’s the instrument you employ to get the job completed.’”

Nonetheless, 20 years in the past, this restore job didn’t simply repair Don’s Omega. Because the chemical engineer and NASA’s oldest-serving astronaut (68) reveals to WIRED, it reworked the area company’s provide protocol at an early stage within the ISS’s personal life.

“At that cut-off date,” Pettit says, “the idea of doing repairs on orbit was to drag out a ‘field,’ put in a brand new field, and you do not take the field aside. As much as that time, [the Space] Shuttle may carry 20 tons of provides, and also you’re flying 4 shuttles a 12 months, and there was no drawback getting spare components. So your ‘restore mechanism’ wasn’t to take one thing aside, it was to switch these models.

“Then Columbia occurred, whereas I used to be on orbit.” Pettit is referring to the disaster of February 2003, when the shuttle disintegrated on reentry having suffered harm to its heat-insulation tiles throughout launch 15 days prior. It meant Houston’s fleet was grounded for a full two and a half years, extending Pettit’s keep aboard ISS from two and a half months to 5 and a half, earlier than returning aboard Roscosmos’ Soyuz capsule (a primary for an American).

“We needed to drop the [ISS] crew measurement to 2, and we may barely hold the meals and water provides on station to help the crew. That introduced in a complete new regime of the way you do repairs. After I downlinked the watch-repair directions, [around the time] Columbia occurred, what this did was show that on orbit we may do high-quality restore.

“Taking a watch aside is form of the paragon instance of ‘high-quality restore.’ So the upkeep folks at NASA began to assume: ‘Let’s take our bins aside and repair them on orbit.’”

Lengthy earlier than Instagram, Pettit’s video wasn’t for likes or “prompt gratification,” as he places it, although he now treasures the social medium for the way significant it may be: “It track-proved a complete new mindset at NASA: the idea that astronauts aren’t klutzes; we aren’t simply bulls in a china closet; we’ve got the dexterity to do high-quality motor restore work on spaceship.”

With Congress having handed the NASA Authorization Act final 12 months, extending US participation in ISS to 2030 and easing the transition to extra industrial area operators than merely SpaceX and Boeing’s Starliner, it’s gratifying to know that greater than 50 years since Jack Swigert relied on his Speedie to time the 14-second reentry burn aboard the stricken Apollo 13 capsule, Swiss watchmaking continues to play its half, up there.

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