ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. On Friday two astronauts will open a hatch and step out of the International Space Station to do some chores and if you're watching on television, one of their tasks might look a little alarming. It will look like one astronaut is tossing another overboard. But don't worry, that figure hurdling into void is just SuitSat, an old Russian space suit that's been stuffed with junk and turned into a radio satellite. NPR's Nell Boyce reports.

NELL BOYCE, reporting:

In space no one can hear you scream but as SuitSat whizzes around the planet, people who own a ham radio or a police scanner will hear this.

Unidentified Woman: This is SuitSat One, amateur radio station RS0RS.

BOYCE: That's the teenager daughter of Frank Bauer, an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. He helped develop SuitSat. Bauer says the idea came from the Russians. One of their suits was getting too old to use so they said let's send it off in style.

Mr. FRANK BAUER (Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland): My immediate reaction was two-fold. It was basically boy, this is crazy, but this is cool! Because I could see right off the bat, you could see a lot of the benefits of it.

BOYCE: He says the main benefit is that kids will love it. The bulky white suit will circle the globe at nearly 18,000 miles per hour. It will broadcast cheerful greetings from children in Russian, Japanese and a bunch of other languages. Some other messages from the kids are being kept under wraps so they'll be a surprise for listeners on the ground. The satellite also has a synthesized voice to report how cold it is, and it's going to be cold. SuitSat won't have the life support system that usually keeps the suit puffed up with warm air. But Bauer says it won't be floppy. The astronauts have made sure that it looks like a human.

Mr. BAUER: They've put a lot of stuff inside it, like trash. I mean our equipment is surrounded by some trash because they're trying to get rid of that too.

BOYCE: Even with all that stuffing, SuitSat won't look exactly like a lost astronaut.

Mr. BAUER: People are thinking of the arms flailing around and everything. Well they're kind of like tied so they are right in front of the suit. Sort of almost like you tie a turkey during Thanksgiving, you know to try to hold the stuffing in.

BOYCE: It's actually kind of a horrific image, like all those classic scenes from science fiction movies where the astronaut goes hurdling off into the black endless abyss. And it will happen just days after the anniversaries of two shuttle disasters. Bauer says that his team talked about whether this was going to be too disturbing but they decided it was worth it.

Mr. BAUER: You know isn't it kind of cool to allow us in a very benign way to let people see science fiction become science fact?

BOYCE: Depending on how long the batteries last, SuitSat will broadcast for just a few hours to up to a week. Then it will go silent and circle the earth, closer and closer, until it hits the atmosphere and burns up. Nell Boyce, NPR News.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.