Power Tools in Space (…someday)

16 03 2010

Me maneuvering a crate onto a flatbed truck in high wind.

I spent my Saturday training with the Nevada-1 DMAT team to operate forklift trucks.   For what it’s worth, I’m now certified.  But man, are forklifts awkward to steer!  They pivot on the rear axle, and while loaded up, you actually drive in reverse.  The forklift “arms” have three degrees of movement, too.  -Takes some getting used to.  Having said that, though, it definitely had scores of ‘guy’ appeal, not to mention several potential space exploration (and obvious science-fiction) crossovers. 

Astronaut operating a robot arm aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

For instance, using heavy machinery requiring precision is a way of life for Mission Specialist Astronauts operating remote manipulator robotic arms.  They reach out to maneuver objects weighing literally tens of tons, and an errant move or slight bump might jeopardize the intergrity of the space station, spacecraft, and the lives of everyone dependent upon them. 

But, in this instance the instrument is “fly-by-wire,” so perhaps the comparison doesn’t entirely hold.

Apollo-era Lunar Rover.

Maybe it’s more akin to the legendarily-hard-to-steer Apollo rovers?  Or, maybe it’s just wishful thinking. 

In any case, logistics is a primary concern no matter where you’re going to travel and set up shop.  Developing skills to use big tools to move large objects can’t hurt a potential astronaut, and since much of what NASA has its space employees doing these days is orbital construction, perhaps this is amongst the more useful ancillary skills to have?

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