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Orbiting spacesuit transmits signals, then goes silent

Sunday, February 5, 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An unmanned spacesuit tossed out of the international space station was supposed to float through space, talking to radio operators around the globe.

The suit, stuffed with old clothes and a radio transmitter, orbited Earth twice Friday, giving off faint signals to Japan. But then the suit, dubbed "Ivan Ivanovich," was apparently silent.

"No more transmissions are being received by ham radio operators ... It may have ceased operating very shortly after its deployment," said NASA commentator Rob Navias, speculating its batteries became too cold.

The deployment of the spacesuit started a 5 1/2-hour spacewalk of mixed results by flight engineer Valery Tokarev and U.S. commander Bill McArthur to perform maintenance and photography tasks.

"Good-bye, Mr. Smith"

The suit was released from the international space station Friday afternoon, looking like a cosmonaut tumbling helplessly through space. The Russian suit was equipped with a radio transmitter to send recorded messages in six languages to amateur radio operators for several days before eventually re-entering Earth's atmosphere and burning up, NASA officials said.

It even wore a helmet and gloves.

"Goodbye, Mr. Smith," Tokarev quipped in Russian, giving the spacesuit the generic nickname "Ivan Ivanovich," as he tossed it out of the station.

The spacesuit project, known as SuitSat-1, was the brainchild of a Russian ham radio operator. It was supposed to send several words in code for schoolchildren listening on the ground. Radio operators were supposed to pick up the messages for several days by tuning into FM frequency 145.990 MHz.

Along with the radio transmitter, the stuffed spacesuit also had internal sensors to monitor temperature and battery power. As it floated along, it was to have transmitted its temperature, battery power and time it has been in space to the ground.

Spacewalk tasks

During the spacewalk, Tokarev and McArthur covered a wide swath of the 240-foot-wide, 140-foot-long floating station as they took on several chores. It was the fourth spacewalk for McArthur and the second for Tokarev.

The tasks included creating storage space, retrieving a Russian science experiment and photographing handrails, antennas and sensors to see how they have held up in space.

Their most difficult chore involved taking steps to protect an important cable connected to a transporter that moves a platform holding the station's robotic arm.

A twin cable that provides power, data and video to the mobile transporter was inadvertently cut in December. Mission managers wanted to make sure that did not happen to the remaining cable by having McArthur insert a bolt into a cable cutter device.

But McArthur had trouble tightening the bolt, so Tokarev instead tied the cable with a wire to a handrail out of the way of the cable cutter device. The cut cable will be repaired later, but in the meantime the transporter cannot move.

"It's disappointing that it didn't go exactly the way we wanted," McArthur said. "You know, that's just life in the big city."


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