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Dental Cool: The Toothbrush That Saved the International Space Station

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Yep. It went like this: The International Space Station, currently home to six astronauts, encountered a malfunction in its Main Bus Switching Unit. The ISS has 4 of those units, each of which weighs (on Earth) 220 pounds, and each of which harnesses and then distributes power from the outpost's solar arrays. The malfunction of one unit meant that the station was unable to relay power from 2 of its 8 arrays?a scary ratio, when your home happens to be a meandering metal tube.

But no big deal, the flight crew thought; this was exactly the kind of thing they'd prepared for. They'd just do a space walk, repair the damaged unit, and move on. So, a few weeks ago, NASA's Sunita Williams and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Akihiko Hoshide?armed with highly technical training, armed with highly technical tools?ventured outside their extraterrestrial home to install a new MBSU. But the pair encountered a problem: Metal shavings had accumulated around one of the existing unit's bolts, making it impossible to replace with the tools they had on hand. The thwarted attempt at maintenance ended up taking 8 hours and 17 minutes, making it, NASA reports, the third longest extravehicular activity in the history of U.S. spaceflight.

But the Space Station's predicament remained. And it was made worse by the fact that, on Saturday, one of the ISS's direct switching units failed, bringing a third solar array offline. Things were getting more dire. So, Williams and Hoshide ventured outside the space station once again. This time, though, they were carrying a new set of tools; ones they'd improvised from materials aboard the space station. Including a can of nitrogen gas and, yep, a toothbrush.

This time, aided by the improvised tools, the repair worked. "I see a lot of metal shavings coming out," Hoshide announced, maneuvering a wire cleaner around one of the bolt holders. The holder thus liberated, he and Williams were able to complete the repair.

For the full, original article written by Megan Garber, staff writer at The Atlantic, click here.

Think you can find cooler? If so, send me any ?worthy? Facebook (or Twitter) posting links you find from the current week that is in dental and if it?s deemed ?Dental Cool? your post will be the next blog. Only rules are to keep it ?Dental Cool,? meaning related to dental and, well, cool!

-Jason Schwartz

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