We could be heroes (on Mars)

Jan. 1, 2000

The ups and downs of maintenance and reliability in spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace

Ralph Kramden often offered to send his wife, Alice, to the moon. And not in a good way. No space suit or helmet. No rocket. No training. Just a one-way trip out of the atmosphere and onto the nearest satellite. It just never seemed like a very appealing offer. For those of you too young to remember those impetuous threats, here’s a short clip: http:///www.youtube.com/watch?v=98qw86DsdZ0.

Now, I’m not sure if Jackie Gleason’s uppercut held enough kinetic energy to allow Audrey Meadows to reach a speed that would generate the necessary escape velocity, but I do know that the moon is about a quarter of a million miles (400,000 km) from here. He might have had a better chance of propelling her to the International Space Station (ISS) — a mere 200 miles (350 km) — with a little help from www.isstracker.com to anticipate when it would be directly overhead.

It doesn’t even take six hours to fly to the ISS on a rocket these days. Just imagine how quickly a Kramden fist would send you there.

Over the past month, we’ve followed the drama of replacing the ISS’s 780-lb (350-kg) pump module due to the failure of a flow control valve that regulates ammonia-coolant temperature. While the temporary shutdown affected only half of the cooling loop system, some laboratory equipment was without power as a precautionary measure.

Of course, replacing the pump module, despite the quick disconnects and despite the pressure having been reduced from 360 to 180 psi, on a satellite traveling faster than 17,000 mph is still no easy task. Here’s a video of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhDRq4lKC5U. Not a bad maintenance gig, if you can get it. And the spacewalk, although not without peril, is still a nice job perk.

On the heels of the historic spacewalk and high-speed maintenance repairs, Mars One (www.mars-one.com), a Dutch-based group led by entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, announced that it had sifted more than 200,000 candidates who’d applied for the opportunity to fly to Mars and stay there. I wrote about that opportunity more than a year ago (http://www.plantservices.com/blogs/plant-ambassador/mission-to-mars-mania/), so if you missed out on that chance, you need to read this blog more often. What was left after Mars One’s initial selection process was a pool of just over 1,000 individuals still yearning to be one of those final 24 people who will take all of their remaining steps on the Red Planet. That’s where we are now. And, if you’re interested in following this project, I’d suggest the forum www.marsonefans.com. While the process is still in its infancy and the launch date has been pushed back to 2025, the countdown is still in progress. But, as I’d mentioned a year ago, “critical equipment” is pretty critical on Mars.

It took three weeks to replace a pump module on the ISS. Mars is roughly 50 million miles (80 km) away, depending on where the planets are in their repeated journeys around the sun. To get an idea of how far that is, try this: http://www.distancetomars.com/. I think they’re going to need a lot of spare everythings on Mars. Not to mention the individuals with the skills to keep critical equipment running and to repair it when it doesn’t. Those people will be heroes on Mars. The masses (all 23 of them) will gather round to proclaim, “Baby, you’re the greatest.”

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