We all know what a miracle duct tape is. What we don’t know is that for the last 36 years, it has been helping astronauts with critical fixes during space missions:
Fixing A Vehicle Fender:
On 11th Dec 1972, astronauts Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan were leaving to explore a rock on the moon when Cernan’s hammer slipped from his pocket and chipped the fender. Now vehicles on Earth don’t need a fender but it is crucial for vehicles used by astronauts. The reason is that “moondust” is highly abrasive and carries a lot of heat. Without the fender, moondust would accumulate on every component of the vehicle and it would fail to work. The dust on the astronauts would cause overheating from within the suit which is a greater risk. Then Cernan had an idea:
Cernan: “And I hate to say it, but I’m going to have to take some time to try … to get that fender back on. Jack, is the tape under my seat, do you remember?” (He’s referring to a roll of ordinary, gray duct tape.)
Cernan: “Okay. I can’t say I’m very adept at putting fenders back on. But I sure don’t want to start without it. I’m just going to put a couple of pieces of good old-fashioned American gray tape on it…(and) see whether we can’t make sure it stays.”
The second attempt at fixing the fender was successful and the mission was resumed. This was the fix of the duct tape in space but it was not the last.
Defective Alarm Systems:
Imagine yourself in a closed environment and a faulty alarm is ringing relentlessly. It would drive anyone crazy. The astronauts of Space Shuttle Columbia decided to use duct tape to shut the alarm.
Duct tape has also been used as a reinforcement of foot-latching mechanism to keep the astronauts fixed to the shuttle making it easier to navigate.
Making Modifications To Tools:
Before 3D printing technology was introduced in space, tools had to be made or modified using whatever was on the spaceship only. Duct tape was an important commodity. It was used to clamp tools to make any necessary device and was also used once to remove dust from critical joints which would have caused failure otherwise.
Fixing Pipes To Fit In Places Where They Don’t Belong:
During the Apollo 13 mission, two O2 canisters were damaged in an accident and the CO2 converters (lithium hydroxide canisters) became useless. The O2 supply was not the main issue but the CO2 excreted by the astronauts was. Many lithium hydroxide canisters were available but the attachment area was damaged and could not be sealed. Solution? Spacesuit was utilized to bypass the barrels that were supposed to contain the filters. Woodfill stated:
“It was to attach a suit hose into a port which blew air through the hose into an astronaut’s space suit. If the space suit was eliminated and, instead, the output of the hose somehow attached to the square filter, perhaps, the crew could be saved. This, in effect, would bypass the barrel. The air blown through the filter by the suit fan would have no carbon dioxide as it reentered the cabin atmosphere.”
By using cardboard, plastic bags and of course – duct tape, the astronauts were able to fix the damaged attachment area which saved the lives onboard.
Hence we can see how crucial duct tape was in saving space missions and in saving the lives of astronauts in the Apollo 13 mission. Its usefulness isn’t limited to Earth. Let us know what you think of the use of duct tape in space!