As if we need another reminder as to how tenuous our low earth orbit outpost is, another reminder came our way recently. And just so we can use another word twice, we'll explain how our tenuous atmosphere, some excitable structures, and the Russians could end up nearly in a story about the day the space station almost broke.
As you know, the top edges of the air around us leaks away from the home planet every day. Some of those friendly molecules, on occasion, find their way way up into low earth orbit. If they happen to run into anything, they slow the very thing down. For those of you familiar with the mechanics of orbit, you know that if something slows down, its orbit decays.
That, of course, is a continuing story for the space station, locked in a silent circular treadmill above mother earth. As runaway air runs into it, the international complex reels from the blow and drops back towards the water below. To avoid an untoward demise, rockets are occasionally fired to speed the whole thing up, raising its altitude once again. Up and down and round and round she goes.
This time the Russians were called upon to fire the rockets on Mr. Putin's side of the fence. Pulsing away, the thrust came on up for the rising. But then things started to go really really (really) bad as the pulsing matched the tinker toy's resonant frequency almost shaking the tinker, and the astronauts onboard, out of the toy. This went on until, at just shy of the breaking point, the burn was terminated.
Putin's potentates apparently put a little too much special sauce in the burn calculations. Having worked the recipe so many times before, it makes you wonder how steady their hands are on things that count, like the keys to those silos we heard about 50 years ago that gave us reason to go to the moon in the first place(they got Putin, we got Spudis, who do you think is right?).
So now the achy, almost but not quite, breaky spaceship whizzing now apparently not so interminably above our heads, is under watchful scrutiny to see if any stress or distress was introduced into its many assembled pieces.
And maybe 2016 will be a lucky year to make it to after all.