Flying Free

Yesterday’s Astronomy Picture of the Day was pretty neat.  It was an astronaut grabbing a rather large satellite in an untethered spacewalk.

The picture doesn’t capture really what’s happening here.  The satellite is rotating while being captured.  The video shows this better. Shannon couldn’t believe what she was seeing.  “Is he crazy!” seems like what Not surprisingly, NASA stopped the practice of untether spacewalks after the Challenger accident.

This reminded me of an interesting anecdote from Mike Mullane’s Riding Rockets on risks in spaceflight.  The shuttle engineers had found a very rare but potential flaw with the shuttle that might prevent the solid rocket boosters from separating (which would be fatal to the crew).  They had asked the astronauts if they would still launch knowing the risk.  That astronaut’s response:

They might as well have asked a three-year-old if he wanted to eat his candy now or wait until tomorrow.  If the engineers said, “We forgot to install the center engine.  Do you still want to launch?” Hank (astronaut Hank Hartsfield) probably would have said, “No problem.  We’ll just burn the two we have.”  Nothing was going to get in our way.

The business of being an astronaut is extremely risky.  I wonder if I could fly in the face of those risks.

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