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It seems Apollo missions carried some variety of gray tape, likely Duct Tape or similar. There's the scene in the movie Apollo 13 and the reality behind it discussed in the video below.

Question: How often has duct tape or similar gray tape been used during crewed space missions? What were a few of the most notable (or most frequently recurring) instances or types of use (besides the famous Apolo 13 CO2 canister "emergency retrofit" illustrated below)?

Apollo-era, Shuttle, space stations, (International, Skylab, Mir, Tiangon, etc.) All crewed spaceflight.


Narrator: But in reality, it was just one man who found the solution; crew systems chief Ed Smiley, and 40 years later he still remembers exactly how he saved the day.

Smiley: We worked from the stowage list, which was just a list of everything that’s on board, and so we discovered Duct Tape, and said “Aha!”

Screen shots from the Smithsonian YouTube video How Duct Tape Saved the Lives of the Apollo 13 Crew:

enter image description here

enter image description here

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Gray tape was used during the Apollo missions, although only mentioned specifically by that name twice.

  • The stowage manifests have several entries for tape. Although "duct tape" or "gray tape" is never listed as such, each CM and LM launched with quantity 1 of part # SEB12100050, which is variously described as TAPE,UTILITY, TAPE,ROLL, or just TAPE. I believe this was the gray tape. They were stored in location R6 in the CM, and as in the picture below for the LM. There were also recording tape cassettes, "micropore" medical tape to attach electrodes, and fiberglass mending tape for the survival rafts, but none of these are duct tape.

LM tape roll

  • The mission reports for Apollo 7, 8, 10, 11, and 12 do not mention use of tape (other than recording tape or taping electrodes).

  • Apollo 9 used tape to secure the eyepieces in the sextant.

  • Apollo 13 famously used gray tape in the CM LiOH cartridge adapter.

  • Apollo 14 used tape to help darken the cabin for dim-light photography.

  • Apollo 15 used tape to fix a broken antenna on the lunar module pilot's spacesuit. They taped the brightness control for the lower equipment bay lights to the position they preferred and left it that way for the rest of the mission. The restraint harnesses of the crew couches became unscrewed; all but one part was recovered, and tape was used to replace that missing part.

  • Apollo 16 used tape to secure the eyepieces in the sextant. After transferring lunar samples to the CM, the CM cabin fan was turned off and paper was taped over the inlet to contain dust. Cardboard shades were taped to the floodlights to help darken the cabin for dim-light photography. Post-flight inspection found two pieces of "gray tape" in the cabin air filter.

  • Part of the right rear fender fell off the lunar rover during both Apollo 16 and 17. Apollo 16 did not repair the fender, and got showered in dust kicked up by the rover. Apollo 17 first tried to re-attach the fender with tape, which did not stick and fell off while driving; they then fashioned a replacement from tape and paper maps. An anomaly "Determine cause for gray tape not sticking properly" was investigated post-flight.

  • Apollo 17 also taped some solar panels on an experiment package to stay flat. Prior to ascent from the moon, they swept the lunar dust into holes in the LM floor, and then taped those holes shut to keep the dust out of the cabin.

It would not surprise me if gray tape were used on the Shuttle and ISS, but someone else should write that answer.

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    $\begingroup$ This is great, thanks! I know it's a lot of work, but presumably these are coming from sources and not personal memory. Hopevully each of these will eventually cite a source. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 15 at 8:08
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    $\begingroup$ The first bullet point is from the stowage lists, and all of the others are from the mission reports. I have all of these official NASA documents in my personal collection, and will hunt down their on-line links tomorrow. $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon Sep 15 at 8:17
  • $\begingroup$ Given the info, the IP should be able to find the links... $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike Sep 15 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ An anomaly "Determine cause for gray tape not sticking properly" was investigated post-flight is there any record of the finding of that investigation? $\endgroup$ – dwizum Sep 17 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ @dwizum: Yes. The anomaly is listed in the mission report with "Result: Bonding properties were within specification." $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon Sep 17 at 14:45
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When I was in shuttle Endeavour's cockpit in May 2008 (the Orbiter was in the Orbiter Processing Facility) I noticed this duct tape applied to the aft Multifunction Display Unit.

enter image description here

(personal photo)

Two missions later, on STS-127, this in-space photo shows that there appears to be even more duct tape applied.

enter image description here

(NASA image source: https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/shuttle/sts-127/html/s127e006608.html)

enter image description here

(Same image, annotated by me)

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    $\begingroup$ That's beautiful, literally and conceptually as well. The Shuttle had long-term duct tape, who'da thunk it? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 15 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I was kind of shocked to see it which is why I took the photo. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 15 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ Just if anyone else don't immediately make the connection that these two pictures are of the same thing: The first photo that Organic Marble took is taken from close to the window in the in-space photo, picturing the side of the monitor behind his head. $\endgroup$ – Hohmannfan Sep 15 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ Another example from the Shuttle program was STS-90, which was an extended duration mission. Normal Shuttle missions used canisters of lithium hydroxide to remove CO2 from the breathing atmosphere. That approach limited how long an Orbiter could orbit the Earth. The Extended Duration Orbiter hardware included the Regenerative CO2 Removal System to overcome that limitation. The RCRS failed on STS-90. The fix that enabled the mission to complete was to cut a line open and patch it shut with aluminum tape. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Sep 15 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen when a question basically boils down to "provide examples", as this one does, more answers with more examples are encouraged. $\endgroup$ – hobbs Sep 16 at 21:10
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My favorite use to DT during the shuttle program was by Story Musgrave. He had problems with his communication gear, so here was his solution:

Story taped headset to his head

I recall other photos of his engineering solution, but I have not been able to find them right now.

It was also used to assemble the "fly swatter" for satellite repair on STS-51D: Fly Swatters in use during EVA Fly swatters before use

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  • $\begingroup$ That's priceless! $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 16 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ For those who cannot see pictures, it would be best if you described what the picture shows (at least the portion relevant to the question). $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 16 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage I can see the picture, and I still can't understand exactly what I'm looking at! An explanation is definitely called for. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Sep 16 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh He seems to have taped a headset to the the side of his head. $\endgroup$ – 8bittree Sep 16 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Adam more images from STS-6 are located here (science.ksc.nasa.gov/mirrors/images/images/pao/STS6), including a larger version of the image on the left in your post. However due to the general rotting of NASA web resources, there does not seem to be an index page, so you have to click through the links one by one. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 16 at 15:36

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