Astronauts Cruise Around on Mini-Jetpacks
C A P E C A N A V E R AL, Fla., Oct. 18 -- Two astronauts floated outsidespace shuttle Discovery today for a fourth straight day ofspacewalking chores and one fun job — test-driving a mini-jetpack.
Jeff Wisoff and Michael Lopez-Alegria took turns jetting overand around space shuttle Discovery’s payload bay to test the smallnitrogen-powered rocket backpack that could someday save anastronaut’s life.
They were on a leash the whole time. But it was a loose leash.
“Jeff, what’s it like being a satellite?” one of theastronauts inside Discovery asked as Wisoff propelled himself 240miles above Earth.
“Pretty awesome,” Wisoff replied. Later he murmured: “Likefalling in love.”
Test Drive Above Earth
NASA insisted the spacewalkers be tethered for the jetpackdemonstration. Because Discovery is docked to the space station,the shuttle could not immediately dash after the astronauts iftheir jetpacks failed.
The miniature jetpack, called Safer, is meant for use on a spacestation. Without the jetpack, an astronaut could drift away andbecome lost in space.
Safer is much smaller and less powerful than the BuckRogers-like jetpack that was used a few times by shuttle astronautsin 1984. That device has long since been retired.
Earlier today, the two astronauts completed the Discoverycrew’s fourth and final spacewalk in as many days to install twonew space station components.
Designed for Rescue, Not Cruising
The astronauts prepared the space station for the arrival ofhuge solar panels in December, an American lab module in January,and the orbiting outpost’s first full-time residents, scheduled tomove in in November.
Wisoff tried out the jetpack first, slowly propelling himselftoward the shuttle cargo bay and pausing to perform some twists andturns. It was deliberately slow-going to simulate an emergency.
Lopez-Alegria was at Wisoff’s side the entire time. Then theychanged places. Each test flight lasted just minutes and spannedonly 50 feet.