Creative problem solving: $100b space station fixed with $3 toothbrush

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When a vital power unit on the International Space Station (ISS) broke, NASA astronauts had to get creative about fixing it, eventually solving the problem with a spare toothbrush.

The ISS has four units that harness power from solar arrays and distribute it throughout the complex. When one unit broke the station could only get power from six of the eight arrays.

Last week an attempt to replace the broken unit failed because the astronauts weren’t able to replace one bolt due to metal filings in the space. After a record-breaking eight-hour spacewalk to try and replace the part failed, the astronauts and mission control had to get creative.

NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said they worked “around the clock” to devise ways to fix the stuck bolt.

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japanese spaceflyer Akihiko Hoshide spent six hours on Tuesday fixing the unit by clearing filings using an improvised tool including a toothbrush and a can of nitrogen gas.

When Hoshide reported that the troublesome bolt was finally locked into place, the flight managers in Mission Control erupted in applause.

"Looks like you guys just fixed the station," astronaut Jack Fischer radioed from Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "It's been like living on the set of Apollo 13 the past few days. NASA does impossible pretty darn well, so congratulations to the whole team."

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