The toothbrush that saved a $100 billion space station

When you think of your toothbrush you probably only think of it as having a limited amount of uses. The top two Family Feud responses would probably be to brush your teeth and to clean the bathroom (just like every army movie you’ve ever seen). Probably nowhere on the Feud list would you find saving a giant science lab orbiting the earth at just under five miles per second. Well low and behold that is exactly what happened last week aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The toothbrush that saved the International Space Station

Lately, the space station has been suffering equipment problems, the most severe of which has been the decrease of its power supply by 25% as a result of some malfunctioning equipment. Although the astronauts aboard are well trained and have some of the most advanced equipment in the world at their disposal, upon examining the cause of the problem they saw that all their tools wouldn’t do the job. Some metal shavings had collected around of the bolt’s they needed to access to make the necessary repairs. Without moving these shavings they couldn’t do anything and in spite of trying hard during an eight hour space flight it was decided to re-think their plan.

The situation became even more dire when another solar panel shut down leaving the space station at 62.5% of its normal power. To fix this problem the crew had an Apollo 13 moment and their colleagues at mission control in Houston looked at the supplies that were on board and they decided that they would fashion a regular toothbrush into an extraterrestrial cleaning device. After making the device, American astronauts Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide took the new tool out on a spacewalk resulting in Hoshide exclaiming “I see a lot of metal shavings coming out.”

This new use for an old tool did the trick and the repairs were made to the ISS and systems are back to functioning at normal levels. So next time you are in pediatrics and your patient says he doesn’t like to brush his teeth, just tell him this story and maybe it’ll turn him onto the path of good oral hygiene or even “to infinity and beyond!”

What other interesting uses for toothbrushes have you come across in your dental adventures?

~Dan Caban, Temple ’13, District 3 Trustee


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