On Wednesday, two International Space Station astronauts — NASA’s Sunita Williams and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide — used a toothbrush and spare parts to successfully loosen a stubborn bolt and install a main bus switching unit (MBSU). The pair attempted to replace the MBSU during a spacewalk last week, but failed to get the bolt loose due to damaged threads and debris.

The MBSUs harness energy from the space station’s solar arrays and distribute it throughout the ISS. There are four MBSUs on the complex, one for each pair of solar arrays. During the period while the one unit was unusable, astronauts were not able to receive power from two of the eight solar arrays. Though not a life-threatening issue, it was certainly a problem.

That was when Earth-bound scientists teamed up to find a solution.

Like with Apollo 13 — and we hear there were many references to the film during the brainstorming period — scientists at NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency had to come up with a fix, utilizing only available supplies on the ISS. The team came up with a makeshift brush that could be formed out of wires, and a modified toothbrush to lubricate the bolt’s housing after debris had been removed.

After Williams and Hoshide had spent about four hours cleaning, they were given the option to either keep going or clean off the MBSU and bring it inside for analysis. Of course, in their non-tiring awesomeness, the two astronauts agreed to finish the installation.

Setting spacewalk records

Last week’s spacewalk took a whopping 8 hours 17 minutes, landing it’s spot as the third longest spacewalk in history. The outing was only 39 minutes shorter than the longest spacewalk, which was completed by NASA astronauts Jim Voss and Susan Helms on March 11, 2001.

During Wednesday’s spacewalk, however, Williams became the new leader for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut. The record was formerly held by Peggy Whitson, who worked outside for a total 39 hours and 46 minutes on six different spacewalks. At the end of Wednesday’s spacewalk, William had totaled 44 hours and 2 minutes, also on six different spacewalks. Way to go, Sunita Williams!

Photo credits: NASA