Feb. 3, 2006 — -- Looking eerily like a scene out of the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," SuitSat1 floated off into orbit today.
The International Space Station's crew gave it a shove at 6:02 p.m. ET, and it spun serenely away over the South Pacific Ocean.
SuitSat1 is an old Russian spacesuit stuffed with junk from the International Space Station. It also holds three batteries and a ham radio transmitter, which will enable it to become a tiny satellite radio station -- at least for a little while.
It was last worn by astronaut Michael Foale on his last spacewalk,when he was a crew member of Expedition 8 two years ago.
SuitSat1 will orbit Earth at about 225 miles altitude, and at first will closely duplicate the track of the International Space Station. It has no thrusters to maintain its course, so it will not orbit the planet indefinitely. The spacesuit will first become just another piece of space junk, and then as its orbit decays it will re-enter Earth's atmosphere and burn up after a few weeks.
People back on Earth can tune to frequency 145.990 MHz to hear a 30-second message transmitted from inside the spacesuit. It will say "This is SuitSat1" in six languages -- English, French, Russian, Japanese, German and Spanish. Special words are included in the greeting that can be recorded and deciphered. SuitSat1 will also broadcast its temperature, battery power and mission elapsed time.
No one knows just how long SuitSat1 will orbit Earth -- it could be two days or up to six weeks. Its batteries will likely keep up the transmissions only for a couple days, however.
It will be fun to track SuitSat1, but the experiment has scientific benefits too. NASA engineers want to know how long batteries will last in the spacesuit when it is outside for so long. They also want to see how much the spacesuit will tumble, and how the tumbling affects radio transmissions.
Participants who successfully track SuitSat1 are asked to log their real-time data on the SuitSat Web site, http://www.suitsat.org so people around the world can track the satellite.