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NASA Gear exhibit out of this world

Steve Rushin

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Twelve million dollars worth equipment from the space shuttle’s recovery system was on display Saturday at the College of Engineering’s open house.

The shuttle display was sponsored by NASA.

Engineers who helped design the equipment were present to explain the complicated materials.

Among some of the other objects displayed were the shuttle’s satellite capture device, nicknamed the “Stringer”; a manned maneuvering unit (MMU), which is a “flying backpack” worn by shuttle astronauts; and an extra-vehicular mobility unit (EMU), commonly known as a spacesuit.

These are the three main components of the system that was used successfully by astronauts Joe Allen and Dale Gardner on Nov. 9, 1984, in the first retrieval of an orbiting satellite in need of repair.

The Stinger is a device attached to and held in front of the astronaut, said Lee Willis, a NASA engineer who assisted in its design.

The Stinger features an aluminum arm from which three finger-like toggles extend and lock onto the satellite, which then can be pulled back into the shuttle for repairs.

The device’s long aluminum arm, left in the satellite when it is returned to orbit, resembles a bee’s stinger.

“The Stinger costs $100,000,” Willis said. “But that’s nothing, considering it retrieves a $100 million satellite.”

Jose Marmelejo, a NASA engineer involved in development of the satellite recovery system, helps test and redesign “the astronaut support system,” the term he used for the spacesuit.

The spacesuit displayed by Marmelejo was a version of the $1.5 million suit worn by the shuttle’s astronauts. The suit provides the essentials for life support, including the astronaut’s supply for oxygen.

Both Willis and Marmelejo work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Huston.

The most complex and expensive device on hand Saturday was the MMU, a $10-million “flying backpack” which is worn on the back of the astronaut for solo flight outside the space shuttle.

It is with this apparatus that the astronaut carries the Stinger to the satellite, attaches it and flies back to the shuttle with the satellite in tow, allowing freedom from the previously used restrictive tethers.

This device was first used Feb. 7, 1984, when astronaut Bruce McCandles floated freely in space, a few meters from the space shuttle “Challenger.”

John Gladu, an employee of the ILC Corporation, a sub-contractor to NASA it is involved in making the backpack, said it performs well in space.

“The backpack, which is nitrogen-propelled, is capable of traveling at 66 feet per second, which is really amazing,” Gladu said.

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