Everyone knows that the three most important factors in real estate are location, location, and location, but many people may not consider that the same principle currently holds true in the development of space. The recent puff piece about astronauts losing a bolt during a spacewalk reminded me that every ounce of material lifted into low earth orbit is incredibly valuable.

Spacewalking astronauts worried they have may have gummed up a successful job connecting an addition to the international space station Tuesday when a bolt, spring and washer floated free.

Astronaut Joe Tanner was working with the bolt when it sprang loose, floated over the head of Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and skittered across the 17 1/2-ton box-like truss that they were hooking up.

A bolt, spring, and washer may only be worth a few dollars on earth, but those same pieces of equipment are worth thousands of dollars once they're in orbit. Considering that cargo lift costs for the Space Shuttle are currently around $10,000 per pound, most of the material in orbit is far more valuable because of its location than because of its design or composition.

As a side note, one of the most important fields of basic research is figuring out how to get stuff into orbit more cheaply. Until lift costs drop dramatically, don't expect to see hotels in space.

Oh no, they've lost another bolt!



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