Trial Balloon

Trial Balloon: May 11, 2009 Archive

Repair Above the Air

Posted at 5:15 AM on May 11, 2009 by Dale Connelly (26 Comments)

I'm interested in the latest Hubble Space Telescope repair mission. It combines two things I like a lot. Outer space. And people who know how to fix things.

Guys Under Hubble.jpg

My father is a man who likes to immerse himself in a repair job. I spent my youth holding a flashlight over the open engine compartment of a '65 Corvair or a '68 Chrysler New Yorker, training the beam on the *#!* fuel pump or the #%*! master cylinder, fetching a ΒΌ inch socket or a gasket or a rag to mop up some dripping oil. It was tedious work, requiring patience and focus, like running a space mission.
I did OK on the patience part.
I'll admit my focus drifted.

But things were spiced up by the grunting and some colorful language that sometimes came shooting up from underneath the vehicle. I hope NASA doesn't clamp down on the cursing. It's an important part of any maintenance job. Cursing helps the mechanic deal with a wide range of common frustrations - parts that won't detatch and places that are too tiny to reach, tools that won't work or worse - can't be found.
In my father's garage, it seemed that once a tool was set down, it was likely to disappear. In outer space, they literally float away. I know what that's like.

Because my only job to hold the flashlight and fetch sockets, I never did learn to be good at fixing things, and my auto repair victories are rare. The most recent big success was replacing a radio antenna in a 1993 Camry last summer. I still get a little dizzy thinking about it, because I had to lay across the driver's seat with my head down where the accelerator pedal is. For 20 minutes. You can't walk a straight line right after doing that, but it was worth the trouble.

In a throw-away society where people are encouraged to replace worn out things rather than repair them, we are going cold turkey on a decades-long new stuff spending binge, and the average person who can fix something and extend its life is a geniuine folk hero.

Anyone have a story to tell about an extremely satisfying repair on something you might otherwise have thrown away?

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