Saturday, February 04, 2006

Yea. OK. But, Uhhhhh, Why?

Crew tosses out spacesuit stuffed with radio transmitter during spacewalk


February 3, 2006, 7:17 PM EST

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The crew of the international space station shoved an empty space suit stuffed with discarded clothing out the door Friday, creating a ghostly scene that resembled a cosmonaut tumbling away from the orbiting outpost.

Complete with helmet and gloves, the spacesuit floated past the Russian section of the space station, 220 miles above Earth, before rotating away feet first and beginning its orbit around the globe.

"Goodbye, Mr. Smith," Russian flight engineer Valery Tokarev said, giving the figure a nickname as he and U.S. commander Bill McArthur began a six-hour spacewalk to perform maintenance and photography tasks.

The Russian suit was equipped with a radio transmitter that will send recorded messages in six languages to amateur radio operators for several days before eventually re-entering Earth's atmosphere and burning up, NASA officials said.

The spacesuit project, known as SuitSat-1, was the brainchild of a Russian ham radio operator. It will send several words in code for schoolchildren listening on the ground. Radio operators will be able to pick up the messages by tuning into FM frequency 145.990 MHz.

Along with the radio transmitter, the stuffed spacesuit also has internal sensors to monitor temperature and battery power. As it floats along, it will transmit its temperature, battery power and time it has been in space to the ground.

Students and others can also follow its progress on a NASA Web site. The suit is expected to pass over the U.S. between midnight and 4 a.m. according to NASA.

"We expect the ham radio operators on the ground to be able to receive the suit signal for several days," said Kwatsi Alibaruho, flight director for the spacewalk at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Even on a simple story like this, the media can fuck it up, which really annoys me.

I mean, I realize space exploration funding is a low priority, but couldn't this purpose have been served just as easily by a Hefty bag? In that entire story, nowhere was it made clear why they chose a spacesuit. It took a little digging, but I found out why and came up with a really charming story:
such suits have a limited life — usually about 10 to 12 spacewalks. The equipment installed on the suits can be cannibalized for use on newer suits, but the bulky main shells must be disposed of. Sometimes they are stuffed into empty supply drones destined to dive back into the atmosphere. Once, a suit was loaded onto a visiting space shuttle for study back on Earth. But usually, the suits are literally thrown away into space, stuffed with other throwaway items such as empty food containers and dirty clothing.

In October 1993, two cosmonauts aboard the Russian space station Mir added a wry visual gimmick: They stuffed the suit full of trash, shaping it into the posture of a cosmonaut standing erect, arm waving goodbye. They then cast it off in full view of their external television camera. As it slowly cartwheeled away, the empty suit looked like that classic science-fiction staple of the doomed astronaut, saluting as it went to a fiery Viking funeral in Earth’s atmosphere.

For years afterwards, cosmonauts entertained guest astronauts by playing a tape of the spacesuit’s final salute. The images were never released to the public — perhaps for fear they could spark sensational rumors. But in 1993 Russia was still using communications relay satellites for television transmissions, and a few dedicated and highly skilled radio amateurs in Europe were able to eavesdrop on the channel and capture the image.
Was that so hard that the AP couldn't include even a blurb like "Russian cosmonauts historically dump their old overused spacesuits into space to burn up upon re-entry."?

And if the AP can screw up a story like this, which gets picked up by countless newspapers nationwide, imagine what it does on stories that actually have a little meaning?