Space Station Gets Shielding, Not Blasters

Russiancosmonauts climbed out of the International Space Station last Wednesdayafternoon to install protective panels on the Zvezda Service Module. CommanderFyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov completed the planned workfive hours later. The space walk was delayed due to problems encountered duringcommunication checks. The 17 protective panels, each about 2 feet by 3 feet andweighing 15 to 20 pounds each, were delivered to the station last December.

Flight engineer Kotov retrieved three bundles of ServiceModule Debris Protection Panels and then attached them to Zvezda (see location).Zvezdaprovides some of the station's life support systems, as well as living quartersfor two crewmen with a treadmill and a bicycle for exercise. A second spacewalkplanned for June 6th will complete the installation.

 

NASA engineers are concerned that orbital debris,in the form of everything from rocket parts to ChineseASAT test debris to dropped wrenches, will damage the ISS. It will bepossible to turn the ISS slightly to present a shield to oncoming debris,assuming that the object is big enough to be tracked.

 

Sciencefiction writers have been working on protection for spacecraft forgenerations now, and frankly, nobody's interested in those passive bolt-onpanels. To paraphrase Han Solo, panels are fine but they're "no match fora good blaster at your side."

 

In his 1945 classic First Contact, writer MurrayLeinster puts his money on blasters as the best way to deal with any objectlarge enough to damage your ship.

Theblasters are those beams of ravening destruction which take care ofrecalcitrant meteorites in a ship's course when the deflectors can't handlethem. They are not designed as weapons, but they can serve as pretty good ones.They can go into action at five thousand miles, and draw on the entire poweroutput of a whole ship. With automatic aim and a traverse of five degrees, aship like the Llanvabon can come very close to blasting a whole through asmall-sized asteroid which gets in the way.

I know it's a lot of extra work, but it gives you a smootherride than those deflectorshields that George Lucas suggests. If you didn't mind using a bit ofpropellant, you could try the solution that George O. Smith suggests in his1943 story Recoil – meteor-spotting radar:

Spacecraftwere protected from meteors by means of radar that was coupled to the steeringpanels of the ships; when a meteor threatened, the ship merely turned aside bythat fraction of a degree that gave it safety.

But then, of course, you don't get to use your blasters.

 

Read about the origin of the sf term"blaster." Read more about the space walk at ISS Mission Update and NASA.

 

(This Science Fiction in the News story used withpermission from Technovelgy.com - wherescience meets fiction.)

 

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