Fact sheet number: FS-2002-04-80-MSFC
These days everyone is talking about thinking “outside the box, “ but sometimes science is better done inside a box — a glovebox that is. The Microgravity Science Glovebox — a sealed container with built-in gloves — provides an enclosed work space for investigations conducted in the unique, low-gravity, or microgravity, environment created as the International Space Station orbits Earth.
There are good reasons for using a glovebox to contain experiments with fluids, flames, particles and fumes. In an Earth-based laboratory, liquids stay in beakers or test tubes. In the near-weightlessness of the Station, they float away. They might get into the cabin air and irritate a crew member’s skin or eyes or even make them sick. They could damage the Station’s sensitive computer and electrical systems or contaminate other experiments.
To make laboratory-type investigations inside the Station possible, engineers and scientists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., worked with the European Space Agency to build the Microgravity Science Glovebox — a facility that will support Station investigations for the next 10 years. In exchange for developing the Microgravity Science Glovebox, the European Space Agency will have use of other facilities inside the Destiny laboratory until its Space Station laboratory — the Columbus Orbital Facility — is attached to the Station in a couple of years.
The Space Shuttle Endeavor will transport the Microgravity Science Glovebox to the Station during STS-111, ISS Flight UF2, set for spring 2002.
The Expedition Five crew will move the glovebox facility from the Shuttle to the Station’s Destiny Laboratory, where they will perform an initial setup and checkout of the facility.
To checkout the glovebox’s containment systems, they will practice some waste handling procedures with non-toxic substances. They also will complete some maintenance activities.
These initial glovebox activities will be supported by scientists and engineers working in a telescience center at the Microgravity Development Laboratory — a unique Marshall Center facility that helps scientists and engineers prepare investigations from conception to implementation in space. This laboratory has an identical engineering model of the glovebox for investigation testing and flight preparation.
The Space Station glovebox will occupy a floor-to-ceiling rack inside Destiny. It is more than twice as large as gloveboxes flown on the Space Shuttle, and can hold larger investigations that are about the size of an airline carry-on bag.
The part of the unit that holds experiment equipment is called the Work Volume, and has a usable volume of about 67 gallons (255 liters). This work space is approximately waist-high and can slide out to extended or protracted positions, making it easier for crew members to use. An airlock under the work volume, can be accessed to bring objects safely into the work volume, while other activities are going on inside the glovebox.
The glovebox has side ports, 16 inches (40 centimeters) in diameter, for setting up and manipulating equipment inside the box. The ports are equipped with rugged gloves that can be sealed tightly to prevent leaks. The gloves can be removed to provide uninhibited access to the inside of the glovebox when contaminants are not present.
The Station glovebox allows investigators to control their investigations inside the box from the ground. It has an upgraded video system and a coldplate that can provide cooling for experiment hardware. It provides vacuum, venting and gaseous nitrogen, power and data interfaces to investigations.
All of these improvements allow the Microgravity Science Glovebox to accommodate a broad range of investigations. It is set up like a traditional lab bench on Earth to minimize the gap between what can be accomplished in a ground-based lab and what can be achieved in the Space Station lab.
The Microgravity Science Glovebox is designed to support Station investigations for the next 10 years, with occasional replacement of parts in orbit and upgrades in technology to video and data systems.
The Microgravity Science Glovebox accommodates small and medium-sized investigations from many disciplines including biotechnology, combustion science, fluid physics, fundamental physics and materials science. Many of these experiments use chemicals or burning or molten samples that must be contained.
The crewmembers insert their hands in gloves attached directly to the facility doors. Using gloves, they can safely manipulate samples inside the sealed working area.
As investigations are conducted in space, the crew can see inside the glovebox. A video display shows glovebox investigations, and the crew can scrutinize samples with a microscope attached to the inside of the work volume. Video is sent from the Space Station to scientists on Earth so they can observe their investigations as they take place in orbit.
As part of the initial glovebox science activities, two investigations will be conducted during Expedition Five:
The pore formation investigation will melt a material and solidify it. As the materials solidify, tiny holes or pores will form. These pores can affect how strong a material is and how well it performs. This experiment will examine ways to control pore formation and improve materials processing for many applications including turbine blades used in aircraft engines.
The SUBSA investigation will melt materials used for semiconductor crystals, a key component in computers and other electronic devices. On Earth, convection — the gravity-dependent phenomenon, which causes hot air to rise — can cause defects in semiconductors and other materials. As the material melts, convection causes mixing and fluid motion. Investigators will use a moving baffle to see if it reduces convection in the melt and improves crystal formation.
Twenty more glovebox investigations are being planned for future Space Station missions. Numerous glovebox investigations are planned for flight over the next several years.
The development of the Microgravity Science Glovebox builds on a series of successes with the Middeck Glovebox and Spacelab Glovebox, both used on several prior Space Shuttle missions and on the Russian space station Mir. These gloveboxes also were built by Bradford Engineering B.V., an engineering company in The Netherlands, in collaboration with the Marshall Center.
The Station glovebox supports larger, more sophisticated investigations, expanding the capabilities of its predecessors. cells and increase the chances of it reaching target tumors.
The Microgravity Science Glovebox makes it possible to do investigations in space similarly to those done in ground-based laboratories. It provides a safe environment for research with liquids, flames and particles used as a part of everyday research on Earth.
Without the glovebox, many types of hands-on investigations would be impossible or severely restricted on the Station. The Microgravity Science Glovebox is a valuable research tool that lets space crews handle materials safely.
The glovebox allows scientists to test small parts of larger investigations in a microgravity environment, try out equipment in microgravity, and even do complete laboratory-like investigations. It also enables researchers to fly simple investigations more quickly.
The glovebox can support all key areas of microgravity research as well as other scientific fields that may want to use it. This makes it a useful laboratory resource for scientists in many different fields conducting a wide array of investigations.
For more information on the Microgravity Science Glovebox and other Space Station investigations, please visit: