Today, astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis spacewalked to the Hubble Telescope and kitted it with a new camera. Should everything go right–and so far, the mission has been a success–the Hubble should be good until 2014, and it’ll be even more powerful than ever before.
The astronauts couldn’t use the tools you’d find at a hardware store–instead, they relied on a stunning array of 180 tools, 116 of which were designed just for this mission. All of them were purpose built to withstand the rigors of space–including temperature swings of 500 degrees; loose screws that could float away, creating dangerous space junk; and the thick gloves that astronauts wear, which makes fine motor control exceptionally difficult. And the difficulty is compounded by the fact that Hubble was never meant to last as long as it has, and was never meant to be repaired in space.
Here’s a look at the gorgeous devices that NASA engineers created for the mission
To the left is a lightweight high-torque, low-speed drill, which tackles the most hard to get screws, while spinning slow enough that astronauts can easily control it, without fear that it’ll twist out of hand. To the right is a special pin for securing washers:
This “mini-workstation” screws to the chest of the astronaut’s spacesuit, providing a mounting station for tools:
This drill, as opposed to the one above, is high-speed but low torque, so that the astronauts can quickly undo over 100 tiny screws on the lid of a spectrograph–think of a race-car pit crew, replacing the tires on a car. The engineers invented a novel way to catch the screws themselves–before drilling, a plate with plastic fasteners was fixed over the area; as the screws come loose, it catches them: