It’s always a chore when, at home, a big hulking piece of equipment needs to be dumped. Do you break it up and put it in the trash? Try to sell it for space parts on eBay? Refurbish it? Recycle it? Make special arrangements with a hazardous waste company? Leave it in your front lawn in the hope someone might pilfer it?
On the International Space Station, however, the choices for disposing outdated equipment are few, inevitably ending with the ultimate garbage disposal technique: atmospheric reentry.
That’s exactly the fate waiting for the faithful old space station treadmill — a.k.a. the Treadmill Vibration Isolation System, or TVIS — that kept the first 34 astronauts resident in the orbital outpost fit and healthy for the past 12 years. Superseded by the “Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill” (COLBERT) — so named in honor of comedy talk show host Stephen Colbert — the TVIS will be loaded on board the returning Progress M-18M (50P) cargo vehicle. Progress will then detach on July 26 and commence its fiery reentry over the Pacific Ocean.
The TVIS went into operation on November 2000 but it ran its last lap in March 2013, so now it’s just taking up space. Although this piece of kit would likely fetch quite an impressive bid on eBay, the astronauts and cosmonauts have no means of delivering the piece of keep fit kit to any prospective buyer, so they’ll just have to toss it into the atmospheric incinerator with the rest of their junk. Oh well.
Image: Keep fit memories: Leroy Chiao, Expedition 10 commander and NASA ISS science officer, equipped with a bungee harness, exercises on the Treadmill Vibration Isolation System (TVIS) in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station (ISS) on April 10, 2005.