The international space station orbits the Earth, sunlight reflecting from communications dishes and solar panels. Suddenly a door opens and a figure in a Russian spacesuit is thrown out, to orbit the planet before plunging to a fiery death. But this isn't James Bond enforcing cold war action movie justice - this was the worlds first functioning DIY communications satellite.
SuitSat was one of the coolest and craziest NASA projects ever made, and considering that their whole mission statement is "Let's go up into space and do cool stuff", that's saying a lot.
A true testament to the "Let's see if this works!" design school, an old Orlan-model spacesuit was filled with batteries, radio parts and sensors and hurled into orbit to see how long it would last. It's an extremely green idea, investigating the recycling potential of old bits and pieces that are already in space - since the bulk of the vast expense of space travel is getting things out of Earth's gravity well, it makes sense to use every scrap of material we bothered to bring. It's a great educational idea, as the project rallied schoolchildren around the world to track the satellite on their own, sharing the real "Wow we can do that!" feel essential to space travel with a new generation. It's also conclusive evidence that NASA have finally wised up and hired MacGyver. He's never been on any Shuttle crew list, but an inventory of NASA headquarters reveals that three vacuum cleaners, some bicycles and fifteen safety pins are missing - so he's probably past the moon and on his way to by now.
As well as transmitting identifying information and orbital telemetry (though for a shorter time than expected), SuitSat broadcast heartwarming messages recorded by schoolchildren from around the world. Heartwarming, then whole-body warming for the supersonic suit which paid a real Icarussic price for for its incredible one-man orbital show, plunging into the atmosphere and burning up south of Australia. But he might not be a one-hit wonder - NASA and the Amateur Satellite Corporation are currently developing plans for an upgraded SuitSat-2 to follow in his extremely high-altitude footsteps.
Posted by Luke McKinney.
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