George Aldrich wows White Sands Test Facility USRA Students
“George is a really interesting guy. He obviously enjoys his job,” says Logan Ream, an Universities Space Research Association (USRA) student, who is currently assigned to the NASA White Sands Test Facility’s (WSTF) Propulsion Test department. Ream is one of four USRA students who took advantage of the test facility’s unique workplace to sit in on a science and technology presentation given by George Aldrich.
So what makes George an interesting guy? He is a 37-year veteran of NASA White Sands Test Facility, located near Las Cruces, NM. The facility tests materials and components that fly on spacecraft for toxicity and odor. Aldrich’s job title is Chemical Specialist, and he currently works in the WSTF Laboratories, in the Molecular Desorption and Analysis Laboratory. Aldrich has been featured in many TV shows, science magazines, judged smelly sneaker contests, volunteered in the public schools as a science presenter, and, as part of his job, sniff tested over 800 NASA requests in the test facility’s Laboratory department.
Aldrich gave the students a science demonstration he performs routinely in the public schools. Aldrich placed a balloon in liquid nitrogen (LN2) and explained that liquid nitrogen boils at 77 K (−196 °C; −321 °F) and is a cryogenic fluid which can freeze skin when touched. Aldrich wears a face mask and long gloves to guard against splashing. The temperature of liquid nitrogen mimics that of the moon’s surface, giving the students a window of opportunity to understand how materials react to space-like temperatures and in the vacuum of space atmospheres, without actually going to the moon’s surface.
“What do you think is going to happen to the balloon?” Aldrich asks the students.
Aldrich demonstrates that pliable materials such as rubber balls, balloons, bananas and flowers can react differently when exposed to the vacuum of space’s atmosphere. Rubber will now shatter; balloons deflate, burst, or in the case of the banana, can be used to drive nails into wood.
“Well, the presentation was extremely interesting. It's obvious that George loves his work, and he explains everything with passion,” said Ryan Maurer, a USRA student assigned to the test facility’s Hardware Processing department.
“WSTF is a technically enriched workplace,” says John Tylka, a mechanical engineer studying at University of Central Missouri. “All the employees at WSTF, including George, are enthusiastic, supportive, and help us acclimate to the work environment.”
“Mr. Aldrich heightened my interest in cryogenics. The other interns and I frequently have hypothetical talks of some experiments we can conduct using liquid nitrogen or dry ice and then speculate on the results. Once the WSTF Clinic deems me physically able, I can’t wait to serve on the Odor Panel with George, “said Ream.
“They are a great group,” says Aldrich of the USRA students, “inquisitive and innovative. They are very much like the kids in the public schools in that respect. I’m glad to see that spirit in our USRA students as well.”
As for Aldrich, his own public appearance schedule is becoming very interesting. He is judging the “Odor Eater’s Rotten Sneaker Contest”, this week in Montpelier, VT.; he has a confirmed filming schedule for Stan Lee’s Super Humans, on the History Channel next month in Los Angeles, CA; and a Russian film crew is currently requesting to film him at NASA White Sands Test Facility.
Cheerie R. Patneaude
NASA JSC White Sands Test Facility