How Space Travel is like Trip to Ikea

I was off work yesterday. I took advantage of light Friday morning traffic and headed out to Ikea for a bit of shopping. When I returned home and tried to assemble my new purchase, I thought of the crew on Space Station assembling the C.O.L.B.E.R.T. treadmill.

I starting thinking how much space travel is like a trip to Ikea.

Think about it. We have teams of people around the world designing equipment to be

  • lightweight (as much as humanly possible),
  • efficiently packaged to use every ounce of space,
  • complete with detailed assembly instructions,
  • and special assembly tools.

Just like Ikea products…. (For those of you who shop at Ethan Allen, just trust me on this.)

Our astronauts have worked all week assembling the C.O.L.B.E.R.T.

COLBERT treadmill patch

COLBERT treadmill patch

Note: You may recall the kerfuffle (don’t you just LUV that word?) when Stephen Colbert won the write-in vote for the online contest to name a Space Station node. Alas, we named the node Tranquility and devised this wonderful acronym as a consolation prize: Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill. He’s a good sport. Here is Stephen Colbert’s YouTube video message to NASA when we launched the treadmill.

Astronaut Nicole Stott tried out the treadmill for the first time yesterday. Evidently they put all the parts in the right place. It worked. YAY! (You can follow Nicole’s Space Station adventure on Twitter.)

Even bigger than the treadmill, our astronauts and international crewmates, assembled the ENTIRE orbital outpost OUT IN  SPACE — piece by piece, tool by tool, complete with instructions and remote service help from Mission Control. For 10 years we’ve been piecing together our technological marvel that orbits 24/7 over our heads every 90 minutes at a neck-breaking speed of 17,500 mph. Pretty aMAZing, if you think about it.

So, next time you shop at Ikea, lug home your purchases, and contemplate assembly, I challenge you to do this:

imagine yourself floating weightless.

Can you put together your products while floating free? Consider all the steps. Here are a few to consider.

  1. Unpack the boxes from your car or truck
  2. Clear a work space (if you haven’t already).
  3. Transfer the containers to your work space.
  4. Open each container.
  5. Sort out the pieces and parts.
  6. Open your little packages of different-sized screws.
  7. Maneuver with specially-adapted tools to connect the parts.

Ok, now that you’ve finished creating your pretty new bookshelves and dressers, kitchens and bathrooms, and you’ve placed your newly assembled furniture or equipment where it belongs, you may want to do this next:

Go outside. Look up to the skies. Marvel at what we’ve accomplished peacefully in space.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like clapping.


Filed under culture, federal government, NASA, space

4 responses to “How Space Travel is like Trip to Ikea

  1. I once worked on an award nomination for one of the “space station packers” and learned a little about some of the challenges in assembling things in space.

    The packers have to find ways to package small items like nuts, bolts, and washers in a way that they do not go floating all over the place as soon as the package is opened. The person I was working on the award nomination for had devised a way of packing the hardware so that the astronauts would pull back a tab and expose each piece individually, making it more manageable.

    Before working on the nomination, I had never really thought about that aspect of the difficulty of assembling things in space. I imagine that most people haven’t thought about it either 🙂

    • bethbeck

      Astronaut Nicole Stott talked about all the treadmill parts during interviews from Station this week. I didn’t realize they had to assemble the treadmill on orbit, like I did when I bought mine from Costco. Somehow I pictured it as a “unit” of flight hardware. Makes sense, though, to save “stowage” space.

      But think of how much work early pioneers faced once they got off the wagon. They had to cut down the trees to make their log cabins. At least my Ikea parts are pre-cut and packaged…with instructions. Same with COLBERT. 😉

  2. Marcus

    Enjoyed the blog! I’m glad they got the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill all up an running. Was worried that if it failed, they’d just send it crashing into the moon 🙂

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