THE RIGHT SPIN
Told by astronaut
The story of a dramatic rescue in space and the mathematics behind it
A special video presentation for
Mathematics Awareness Month 2005
The Clay Mathematics Institute
Mathematical Sciences Research Institute
The Right Spin
34:20 minutes, DVD
© 2005 MSRI
The Right Spin
With astronaut Michael Foale
Michael Foale was the American astronaut on board the Russian space station Mir at the time of a failed docking attempt with an unmanned supply ship. The supply ship collided with Mir, punching a hole in one of the modules of Mir, damaging a number of the solar panels, and inducing a tumbling motion that prevented the remaining solar panels from pointing toward the sun. The result was that the air pressure began to decline precipitously and after a period of time all electric power was lost. By sealing off the punctured module, the crew was able to restore the required air pressure, but the tumbling motion seemed a more intractable problem. Michael Foale proposed using the thrusters on an attached Soyuz vehicle that served as an emergency evacuation “life boat” and had an independent power supply. The problem was how to use those thrusters to transform the tumbling motion into a regular spin about an axis that would keep the undamaged solar panel facing in the direction of the sun, and thus restore electricity to the station.
In this DVD, Michael Foale provides his personal account of the experience, and explains the mathematical methods involved in rescuing Mir from what would almost certainly have been its demise had they been forced to evacuate and leave it tumbling without power until it burned up re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.
Production of the DVD was made possible by support from the Clay Mathematics Institute, MSRI, and JPBM.
About Michael Foale
Michael Foale studied at the University of Cambridge, Queens’ College. He received a bachelor of arts in Physics, Natural Science Tripos, with 1st class honors, and completed his doctorate in Laboratory Astrophysics in 1982. He was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1987. He was on the first space shuttle flight to rendezvous with Mir, and returned in 1997 for a 4½-month stay aboard Mir, during which time he dealt with the emergency resulting from the collision with the Progress supply ship. In 1999 he engaged in a space walk as part of the mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Michael Foale currently holds the U.S. record for time spent in space, having spent over a year of his life in outer space.
Available from: mam-dvd at ams.org.