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Space Station Astronauts Could Get Stranded in Kibo

The Kibo lab (NASA)
This could be a bit of a tricky (and amusing) situation for astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS). Space Shuttle Discovery astronaut Mark Kelly mentioned a minor technicality with the new Kibo laboratory during an in flight interview last Friday: It might be too spacious. Surely this is a good thing right? It is, and it isn’t. On the one hand the lab provides a large volume for four astronauts to work in comfortably, but on the other hand, if you get stuck in the middle, you may not be able to reach the sides. This could result in a rather frustrating situation where one of the astronauts may become “stranded” in zero-G…

The brand new Japanese Kibo laboratory was successfully delivered to the ISS last Tuesday (June 3rd) by Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-124). After successfully attaching the large module to the station using the onboard robotic arm, the station astronauts connected the electrical, water and air supply, pressurized the module ready for use. This was all being done whist cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko carried out some essential plumbing on the station toilet pump.

So all is going well on board the ISS, especially with the prospect of carrying out some exciting new science activities inside the largest module of the station. However, the astronauts will have to be careful when inside Kibo, they might become stranded. As observed by STS-124 commander Mark Kelly last Friday, “You have to be a little extra careful, you can get out in the middle of it and you can’t reach a handrail and you could possibly get stuck there for a little while.

The Kibo module is the largest module attached to the ISS. The laboratory measures 37 feet (11 meters) long by over 14 feet (4.3 meters) wide, should an astronaut drift into the middle of Kibo, he or she may not be able to reach the handrails or the sides. Kelly obviously had first-hand experience of this during the setup of Kibo as he said that he and his crew had little time for orbital antics, like flailing around in the middle of Kibo when work needed to be done.

This isn’t a serious issue as there will likely be more than one astronaut inside Kibo to assist should their crewmate get stranded. It also seems easy enough to stretch lengths of cord from one side of Kibo to the other (or one down the axis) so astronauts can quickly right themselves. But I’m sure that the station astronauts will be happy to have such a volumous space to float around in rather than being too worried about getting stuck in the middle…

Source: Reuters


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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • joe June 11, 2008, 7:30 AM

    don’t they put velcro in appropriate locations so you can hang without floating off?

  • Kris June 11, 2008, 8:22 AM

    Thank you, Cecil!
    You said “Each exhale would accelerate you by 1.6 m/s.” Does that mean that with one exhale (along the length axis of the body) would move the astronaut 1.6 m in one second? One blow would do the trick quite well, wouldn’t it?

  • Hemal Shah June 11, 2008, 8:23 AM

    Tickle your nose… :)

  • Kris June 11, 2008, 10:00 AM

    Well, yes, Hemal, I can imagine if you sneeze you make a firm tumble in 0-grav! So a firm “blowing at full force through puckered lips” with your head held upwards should put your feet on the other wall in a sec.
    Can you confirm that, Cecil?

  • Bryan June 11, 2008, 10:29 AM

    I’m not sure if anyone watched the first opening of the KIBO lab last week on NASA TV…but for a few minutes after it was first opened, the astronauts were just kinda lounging around inside of the lab…Garrett Reisman demonstrated what we’re talking about here perfectly! he was literally stuck in the middle, out of reach of anything to help him to the side…

    he did eventually reach something…after a series of flips and stretches…it was actually kind of funny to watch! im sure its not on youtube, but i still have it on my DVR…i suppose i should try to get it here to show everyone, even if its not top quality…

  • Alex June 11, 2008, 10:57 AM

    Ahh just blow a few times or flap your arms as if swimming.

    Sure it wont be fast, but you would get to the other side.

  • GBendt June 11, 2008, 11:36 AM

    If you get into the centre of the KIBO coming in from any side, you will continue to move to the opposite side, due to the conservation of momentum.
    And if some curious fate happens to bring your momentum to zero just as you reach the centre of the lab, Alex has given the right solution to solve that problem: blow for a few times, and then wait a half a minute.



  • Connie Drummond June 11, 2008, 12:18 PM

    I have seen no mention of the orbiting of the shuttle and the space station orbiting while be docked together. A local radio station announced on Monday ( 6/9/08) that It was seen on Sunday evening and could been seen again on the 9th. over the Arizona skies traveling from NW toward SE. I live in central Arizona and did observe at the approx, time and the direction he had stated. We have heard nothing on TV nor can we find ref. on the web. Can you help?


  • Frank Glover June 11, 2008, 1:45 PM

    “I’m not sure how one could get stuck in the middle. If you floated to the middle somehow, you wouldn’t just stop. You would continue floating to the other side.”

    It’s not like moving through vacuum. If you started out slowly enough, air friction could well bring you to a stop, out of reach of anything to grab. The larger the pressurized volume, the mor easily this could happen.

    ‘Swimming’ through air is possible, of course, but with your hands alone, it would be less efficent than in water.

    One of the things I imagine trying, had I the opprotunity, is to see if those little battery powered, hand-held fans could be effective personal propeller engines inside a pressurized, weightless enclosure.

    That could also evolve into a weightless sport, much as Heinlein and Ruzic have already said about wings in a Lunar habitat…

  • Quantum_Flux June 11, 2008, 2:11 PM

    I wonder what might happen if somebody gets into a fast spin in the middle.

  • Kevin M. June 11, 2008, 4:13 PM

    Kibo is huge…so overnight the Japs will have the biggest, and most scientifically significant, component of the station? Very impressive, or ambitious…sounds like they may have a controlling interest from now on…

  • Pete June 11, 2008, 8:14 PM

    A simple device with a rare earth magnet and a retractable cord – like vaccum cleaner cords, or a tiny mouse for laptops.

    It could fit into a very small and unobtrusive pouch on the belt, or around the ankle with velcro.

    Pull out a length, set the spring to lock, and toss it to something magnetic.

    If aluminium and other non-magnetic synthetics are used throughout, it would be simple to glue brightly coloured, very thin steel targets in strategic locations.

  • Aodhhan June 12, 2008, 5:05 AM

    They could carry collapsable pointers (like a collapsable antenna; just modify so it locks when extended so it doesn’t collapse easily), in a pocket, and use it in case of emergency.

    Extend it when needed and use it to push against a stationary object to get going again. Simple $2.50 solution.

  • Quantum_Flux June 12, 2008, 12:41 PM

    Hehehe, or they could use silly string as a projectile.

  • Jason June 14, 2008, 2:43 AM

    I think they should use electro magnet active clothing so they can drift toward preset metal handrails around the cabin.,It would also be cool to have objects drift to you like inkpens and clipboards.

  • T. A. Radiant June 16, 2008, 6:09 PM

    Didn’t Skylab have a larger interior than Kibo? I don’t remember any astronaut getting stuck in the middle of Skylab.