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Space station's toothbrush fix; astronaut breaks spacewalk record

September 06, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • Astronaut Sunita Williams broke a spacewalking record on Wednesday.
Astronaut Sunita Williams broke a spacewalking record on Wednesday. (NASA )

Surrounded by expensive, high-tech equipment, astronauts Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide had to resort to a toothbrush and elbow grease to fix a bolt on the International Space Station on Wednesday.

This added credence to a lesson NASA's Williams said she'd learned before: "You can't get married to a plan."

She added: "It seems like something you thought was going to be difficult turns out to be easy, and something you thought was going to be easy turns out to be hard."

PHOTOS: Awesome images from space

Williams wrote about the "sticky" bolt in a blog post earlier this week that revealed the patience and stamina of the Indian American astronaut, who reportedly holds the record as the woman with the longest space flight: 195 days. She's also now the woman with the most experience walking in space.

With Wednesday's outing, Williams broke the record for time spent spacewalking by a female astronaut, NASA spokesman Josh Byerly confirmed Thursday to the Los Angeles Times.

On Wednesday, Williams and Japanese astronaut Hoshide tackled the bolt, which was plugged with metal shavings, to install a new power-relay unit.  The bolt problem had cut power to the space station that is gathered from eight solar wings, according to an Associated Press report. Astronauts had been forced to shut down some equipment.

During a 6½-hour spacewalk Wednesday, the pair applied grease to the bolt and cleaned it with the toothbrush and a wire brush. They also just plain jiggled it.

Back on Earth, NASA scientists celebrated.

"Looks like you fixed the station," Mission Control told the crew on the radio amid applause, according to the AP.

Williams talked about the difficulties of a long spacewalk in her blog Monday. An Aug. 30 spacewalk at the station "went sort of long," she noted. In fact, it was one of the longest spacewalks on record, lasting eight hours.

It was during that lengthy outing that the astronauts encountered the problematic bolt — making several attempts to drive it in but failing.

"That resulted in a long EVA [extravehicular activity], and over 10 hours in the suit," Williams wrote. "No bathroom and no lunch."

Williams talked of the intense pre-planning for a trip outside the station and characterized space as not "static" but "busy, active and unkind."  Radiation from solar flares, plus solar wind and vacuum affect both the spacecraft and the astronauts.  

"It is amazing how you feel the sun set and rise through your spacesuit – even with your eyes closed you would know it."

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Join Amy on Google+. Email: amy.hubbard@latimes.com

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