One thing we love about scientist-types is their nerdy humor, so when researchers launch a trio of satellites next month to test the feasibility of space tether propulsion
, the 'gadget' tasked with 'inspecting' the line will obviously be referred to as bumbling cartoon detective Inspector Gadget. The mission -- called MAST (for Multi-Application Survivable Tether) -- is scheduled to begin April 17th with a payload launch on a Dnepr rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, after which the Washington state-based Tethers Unlimited's two anchor sats (less-cleverly dubbed Ted and Ralph -- um, hello, Penny and Brain...) will gradually separate until they've pulled the kilometer-long line taut. That's when Inspector Gadget goes into action, traveling back and forth across the triple-braided tether at a snail-like .006 mph, all the while using its built-in camera to search for damage caused by radiation, micrometeoroids, and other nasty space stuff. Eventually the company is hoping to use its research to create orbiting systems that can fling other satellites into deep space, but seeing how the last Dnepr rocket crashed and burned on liftoff in 2006, Team Tether is probably best off taking this endeavor one step at a time.