Practice For The Solar Max Repair

The plan was that they should 'suit-up' and, assisted by Overmyer, enter the airlock on 14 November. The suits were somewhat different from the ensembles of previous Apollo and Gemini astronauts, yet was designed with the same objective in mind: venturing outside the pressurised confines of a spacecraft. During their spacewalk, Overmyer would have choreographed every move from the flight deck, while Brand photo-documented the whole event. Their first task would have been to tether themselves to slidewires running along the sills of the payload bay walls.

This safety procedure would have prevented them from floating away from the spacecraft in the event of an emergency. Then, with Lenoir tethered to the starboard sill and Allen attached to the opposite sill, both men would have moved themselves down the entire length of the payload bay until they reached the aft bulkhead. It was during this time that the men would have conducted the first 'real' evaluation of the new suits: their comfort, dexterity, ease of movement and the performance of the communications and cooling systems and the floodlights mounted in the payload bay.

They would also have looked for suitable locations from which future spacewalkers could best work on repairing the Solar Max satellite. Practising 'repair' techniques would dominate Lenoir and Allen's time: after these evaluations, they would have returned to the forward end of the payload bay to begin work on a 'dummy' set of equipment for the Solar Max repair. For more than an hour, it was intended that they should test and comment on a series of fixed and torsion-adjustable bolts, using a special wrench.

Lenoir would then have moved to the Solar Max equipment, which was basically a dummy main electronics box from the satellite's coronagraph. This was intended to be as complicated as it would be on the real Solar Max repair mission, as none of the components in the box had been designed for repair by astronauts. Assisted by Allen handing him parts, Lenoir would have worked a lengthy procedure to remove thermal blankets, take off mounting bolts and connectors, cut a grounding strap and reattach the connectors. All of this would have been done while encased in a bulky pressure suit.

No mean feat, it seemed. Yet this kind of work was essential, not only for the successful reactivation of Solar Max, but also for future servicing missions to the still-to-be-launched Hubble Space Telescope, planned for later in the 1980s. Although the Solar Max tests would have occupied a large fraction of their time, they would also have evaluated the manual system for closing Columbia's payload bay doors in the event of an emergency. This involved using a winching system, attached to the forward bulkhead, both with and without foot restraints.

The astronauts would also have practised moving a large bag of tools halfway down the length of the payload bay and, sitting on top of Allen's helmet, was a small black-and-white television camera with a postage-stamp-sized lens. Lighter, less complex and requiring less power than earlier suit cameras, its performance would have been evaluated and should have yielded some impressive pictures of the first spacewalk outside the Shuttle. Lenoir and Allen would also, if time had permitted, have practised using Velcro fasteners, tape and thermal gloves.

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