Financing the Project
Section 3.3.
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Space Flight Development Spinoffs

Another example of how we could turn parts of the spacecraft into a marketable product comes from my experience this past week [June, 1997 --Ed.] in getting the International Space Station ready for the test in the water tank.

We needed a mechanism to attach some big utility trays to the spacecraft. These trays bridge the gap between the main truss and the node, hab module, and laboratory. The solution was a custom design for an elegant arrangement of a clevis pin and a capture latch, something like this:

Clevis pin

There are two parallel latches for each tray. That little hook in the latch is spring-loaded, so you just push the pin (which is attached to a huge monster of a utility tray) into the latch and it stays put. A tethered pip pin goes in at the "+" to secure the hook. The button opens the latch if the pip pin is removed.

("Pip pin" is an archaic term for a ball-detent device. We are using zillions of them to secure things on our spacecraft because they can be operated with EVA gloves. Another amusing spin-off: my key chain is held together by pip pin from Avibank, the same manufacturer who supplies the pins for our spacecraft.)

While assembling and disassembling the spacecraft parts, I kept getting ideas for dozens of other places we could use this thingie: attaching equipment in my pickup bed, hanging the lawnmover and bicycles in the garage, latching doors, joining heavy furniture subassemblies, holding car and boat seats in place, berthing a sailboat mast, holding gun barrels in a rack, mounting a light fixture on the ceiling, mounting the pull-down ladder to the attic, securing tools in the workshop ... you get the picture.

To make our spaceship work, we hand-built a half dozen of these latches; but they could be mass-produced for a tiny price using the hand-built items as prototypes. There is only one moving part, and only about a half dozen total parts; manufacturing cost would be cheap and the parts could be made from a variety of materials -- from soft plastic to hardened steel -- depending on the application. They'd probably retail at your local hardware store for less than $10.00 for the cast steel version. Plastic ones would cost about 30 cents from the manufacturer and retail for $4.00.

I could use dozens of these things, so I'd assume a few million other tinkers out there could, too.

The point here isn't to sell this particular latch, but that in the process of designing a spaceship we have to invent thousands of marketable products. With a commercial mind-set, we'll market them. That way we can profit from our inventiveness and at the same time reduce everyone's cost of building spaceships (and attic stairs) by providing the parts as mass-produced off-the-shelf products.

Financing the Project

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