Radio show puts it all in perspective

On a recent weekend, I awoke to find a puddle of water on the kitchen floor, and I knew my plans for a relaxing Sunday had changed. The faucet on the kitchen sink was leaking, and needed to be fixed.

I knew it had been leaking — just a little, I thought — so naturally I had put it off. But the miniature lake on the floor could no longer be ignored. So under the sink I went.

Anyone who has worked on a kitchen sink faucet knows it is one of the more uncomfortable household repair jobs. It requires one to lie on one’s back inside the cabinet, working on fittings that are hard to see and awkward to reach.

Of course, the leak did not turn out to be something so simple as a washer. The water was coming not from one of the supply lines, which would have been a simple fix, but from the faucet assembly itself — which, naturally, was not designed to be taken apart and repaired. And, in the process of shutting off the cold and hot water supplies, I managed to strip one of the valves and break the cheap plastic handle off the other, increasing my level of frustration and adding color to my vocabulary.

So it was off to the hardware store for a new faucet.

As I drove, the Moth Radio Hour was playing on Jefferson Public Radio. The episode was astronaut Michael Massimino’s gripping account of his spacewalk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009.

Massimino explained that an instrument on the Hubble designed to detect the atmospheres of distant planets in hopes of finding life had failed because its power supply blew out. His job was to replace the power supply, which was behind an access panel fastened into place with 117 small screws, each with glue applied to the threads for extra security.

Just planning this spacewalk took five years. More than 100 special tools were designed and built just for this job. Thousands of people were involved. Millions of dollars were spent.

And I was grumbling about a leaky kitchen sink.

But back to the mission: When Massimino made it to the telescope, he first had to remove a handrail blocking the access panel. Three screws came out easily, but the fourth refused to budge. It was stripped.

In Massimino’s words, “I realize that handrail’s not coming off, which means I can’t get to the access panel with these 117 screws that I’ve been worrying about for five years, which means I can’t get to the power supply that failed, which means we’re not gonna be able to fix this instrument today, which means all these smart scientists can’t find life on other planets. And I’m to blame for this.”

Massimino continued, “And I could see what they would be saying in the science books of the future. This was gonna be my legacy. My children and my grandchildren would read in their classrooms: We would know if there was life on other planets, but Gabby and Daniel’s dad broke the Hubble Space Telescope, and we’ll never know.”


There were more complications I won’t relate here, but in the end, the handle came off with a yank and the mission was a success.

So was my kitchen faucet replacement, which, after hearing Massimino’s account, seemed about as significant as a speck of space dust.

Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at

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