“Attention Deficit Trait”

Bas-relief clock

Satellite fastball

Man, space travel is just getting weirder and weirder. For some time now, the International Space Station has been wretchedly maintained and sorely underfunded, such that it’s currently about as safe as a flying, pressurized Volkswagen. Worse, mission control keeps sending both astronauts out on space-walks simultaneously — leaving that leaky assembly of Meccano parts to fly on autopilot. What’s more, every time they actually do go outside, the nearly-extinct gyroscopes — responsible for keeping the whole mess in orbit — freak out, and the station begins pinwheeling slowly through space.

This week, though, our DIY space program outdid itself when it launched a new satellite … by hand. That’s right: Salizhan Sharipov grabbed a foot-long, 11-pound sputnik, wandered out onto the surface of the Space Station, and just sorta tossed it off into the howling void. As CNN reports:

Sharipov let go of Nanosputnik on the count of two as Chiao photographed the event. “Off it goes,” Sharipov said as the satellite floated away with a spin. Minutes earlier, he commented: “Everything is like in the movies, and it’s hard to believe.”

I admit I’m impressed at the sheer low-fi ingenuity of the launch. But it’s clear that the space program is becoming less and less governed by physics and engineering, and more and more by, I don’t know, punk rock or something. I wouldn’t be surprised if NASA announces that the astronauts are now permitted to smoke inside their space suits.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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