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ISS Repair Space Walk: A Glimpse Into the Station's Future

NASA is changing the way it handles hardware problems

4 min read

6 August 2010—The dramatic emergency-repair space walks assigned to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) signify much more than the repair itself. The astronauts are the first to employ an entirely new mode of spacecraft maintenance. Previous approaches to keeping the 380-metric-ton orbital outpost functional are being retired, along with the United States’ space shuttle fleet. Astronauts should expect this new emergency-repair scenario for the remainder of the station’s lifetime, which could be decades.

From now on, urgent repairs will be performed entirely by broadly trained space-station crews, not by specialized teams on brief shuttle visits as was previously done. These crews will use stocks of spare parts left inside and outside the station by the final visiting shuttles. These resources are being sent up based on a careful analysis of the ”mean time between failure” (MTBF) of the spacecraft’s components, which are designed to last for years in space.

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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