The Original Space Cowboy   Leave a comment


I’ve seen the film “Gravity” and it’s a tension filled, zoom-above-the-earth tale meant to demonstrate how dangerous life can be in space.  I also know that a portion of what was depicted in the film is not correct, but then again, how entertaining could a 100% scientifically accurate film be?

I agree.  Boreville, USA  Sometime, though, there really are stories that are 100% true of bravery despite obvious risks.

Take the case of Dale Gardner.

In 1984, Commander Garder and Dr. Joseph Allen used what amount to a jetpack (that’s a nitrogen gas-powered manned maneuvering unit, or MMU) to retrieve two stranded satellites, the Palapa B-2 and Westar 6, and load them into the shuttle Discovery.  Both had been deployed from a shuttle and slipped into useless orbits, due to the malfunctioning of their kick motors.  Gardner connected the Palapa B-2 to the shuttle’s mechanical arm but unable to load the satellite into the cargo bay.

For 90 minutes, 224 miles above the earth, both astronauts struggled to maneuver the satellite into place.  Easy enough to move it around in space, it was hard to stop and it nearly collided with the Discovery.  With the help Anna Fisher, another astronaut, the Palapa B-2 was eventually loaded into the cargo bay.


That left one more satellite to load, the Westar 6.  Garder and Allen had fewer troubles moving it into the cargo bay this time, fortunately.

These three astronauts proved that one needn’t throw away $35 million dollars because a satellite won’t function.  They were rescued and brought safely back to earth.

This was the last time MMUs were used in space.

It’s my sad duty to report that Dale Gardner died on February 19, 2014 at the age of 65.  You can read a little more about his life in the New York Times, at this link:

What a wild ride it’s been.  And now, he floats above us forever.


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