Most of us postpone tossing our old toothbrushes in the landfill by putting them to work as cleaning tools. But very few of us postpone tossing our old toothbrushes in the landfill by putting them to work as cleaning tools on the International Space Station. Astronauts Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide did that yesterday, though, when they used an old toothbrush to help install two problem bolts.
The astronauts had already done spacewalk of longer than 8 hours — the third-longest in history — trying unsuccessfully to replace a busted power unit. The bolts gave them trouble, though, and they eventually had to pack it in. But they returned a week later, armed with … a toothbrush and some bits of wire. Look, are you a space station engineer? Well then SHUT UP.
This new approach was the result of collaboration with flight controllers, engineers, and veteran astronauts, who all brainstormed ideas for how to upcycle workable tools out of stuff already on the spacecraft. With the help of the modified toothbrush, a wire cleaning tool, and other makeshift instruments, Williams and Hoshide were able to clean out the metal debris in the bolt housing, which was preventing them from bolting the new power supply into place.
Astronaut Jack Fischer, who was on the ground in Houston, described the successful repair as “a little slice of awesome pie.” We’d suggest maybe a little schmear of awesome mint-flavored Colgate.