A POTENTIALLY catastrophic threat to the $100 Billion International Space Station, and the astronauts aboard, has been averted thanks to a $3 toothbrush.
For more than a week the increasingly worried crew members on the ISS had been desperately trying to fix an electrical problem threatening life-support systems as three solar panels blacked out.
But in a move which rivals the Apollo 13 rescue mission the crew and boffins on the ground in Houston worked out a fix using a store-bought toothbrush and an Allen key Duct-taped to a bolt.
Then NASA's Sunita Williams and Japan's Akihiko Hoshide spent six and a half hours outside the space station using the improvised tools to fix the MBSU.
The problem was a malfunctioning Main Bus Switching Unit, which transfers power from the massive solar panels into the station, space.com reported.
Without the 100kg MBSU the station was unable to get power from two of its eight panels.
Then on Saturday another malfunction put a third panel offline - making for a nervous time on the station as they conserved power to keep vital life support systems functioning.
"It's been like living on the set of Apollo 13 the past few days," astronaut Jack Fischer said from Mission Control in Houston, referring to the brainstorming session that figured out how to save the stranded Apollo 13 astronauts - portrayed in a movie starring Tom Hanks.
Pic courtesy NASA