Haunting Images from NASA of a Space Suit Drifting in Orbit

Open the pod bay doors, HAL….

You might want to file this under “nightmare fuel.”  Yes this is a thing that actually happened on the International Space Station in 2006. But if you’re not already familiar with what’s going on here, it’s probably not what you think…

Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do…

It might appear to be a lone astronaut drifting in orbit, akin to Bruce McCandless’ historic untethered flight 320 feet from Challenger in 1984 (except lacking any way to return to safety) but this suit is thankfully vacant — it was the SuitSat-1 experiment in which a retired Russian Orlan space suit was released from the ISS by Expedition 12 crew members on February 3, 2006.

The official designation for SuitSat was AMSAT-OSCAR 54, though it was nicknamed “Ivan Ivanovich” or “Mr. Smith”. The radio transmitter used a frequency of 145.990 MHz. (Wikipedia)

Besides being stuffed with old clothes, the suit was outfitted with three batteries, internal sensors and a radio transmitter, which faintly transmitted previously-recorded voices of school children to amateur radio operators worldwide before its batteries failed a couple of weeks later.

Yes, I said transmitted voices of children. [shudder]

Watch a video of the SuitSat release below:

SuitSat-1 eventually burned up on atmospheric entry on September 7, 2006 over the Southern Ocean.

“SuitSat is a Russian brainstorm. Some of our Russian partners in the ISS program, mainly a group led by Sergey Samburov, had an idea: Maybe we can turn old spacesuits into useful satellites.”
— Frank Bauer, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

There was also a SuitSat-2, released from the ISS on August 3, 2011. It spent 154 days in orbit before entering the atmosphere.

Even though I know there’s nobody in there it’s still really eerie to watch a person-shaped suit drift motionless out into space. It’s literally the stuff of sci-fi nightmares… let’s hope we never ever see this happen with an occupied one! (At least not in reality — keep it on the big screen. Ad astra, Lt. Kowalski.)

Image and video credits: NASA

Note: this is an edited LITD post from 2013. 

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