Jan 30, 2006, 11:41 AM
Post #1 of 8
In what might resemble a horrifying moment in a science fiction film, astronauts aboard the International Space Station will toss an empty spacesuit overboard next week.
The Russian suit will carry three batteries and a ham radio transmitter and antenna. Amateur radio operators on Earth will be able to listen to its transmissions over several days until the batteries fail.
The space station has long had a bond with earthbound amateur radio operators, and there is a ham rig on the station to communicate with them. The idea of turning a suit into a satellite came from the Russians, NASA officials said.
In a few weeks, the orbit of the suit (designated SuitSat-1) will decay, and the suit will burn up as it falls into the atmosphere. Kwatsi Alibaruho, a NASA flight director who spoke yesterday at a news conference in Houston, said, "No part of the suit is expected to survive re-entry."
The suit will be released during a spacewalk on Feb. 3 in which the astronauts, William S. McArthur Jr. of the United States and Col. Valery I. Tokarev of the Russian Air Force, will also repair a moving platform that carries the station's robot arm.
In December, a safety device designed to cut snagged cables cut one of two control lines to the platform; NASA is studying why the accident occurred. The spacewalkers will install a bolt that will keep the second line from being cut until a more complete repair can be carried out.
"It's very important that we repair this," said Kirk Shireman, the deputy space station program manager.
Anyone with a ham radio or police scanner that picks up the FM frequency 145.990 MHz can listen to the spacesuit's transmissions. NASA has put a computer program online at http://science.nasa.gov/RealTime/JPass/25/JPass.asp to help people figure out when the suit will be traveling overhead.
The suit will be unpressurized, but the astronauts have stuffed it full of discarded clothing so that it should retain a somewhat human shape. Sensors will monitor the suit's temperature and battery power, which will be transmitted along with a message in five languages.
The message (which is not "heeeeeellllllppp!") will include an image and secret words for student listeners to decipher.