After spending almost four years in space, suitcases full of valuable experiments were returned to the anxious researchers awaiting the arrival. On Oct. 3, two Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) passive experiment containers were opened for the first time since arriving back on Earth from their prolonged stay in space.
The project's principal investigators and technicians opened the two containers in a clean room at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and spent five days inspecting the material samples and the containers before sending each experiment to its original home for more investigation.
Although the 35 investigators who traveled to NASA Langley each had different research interests with his or her samples, overall excitement was felt throughout the week by the entire team.
Miria Finckenor, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, came to retrieve a variety of experiments, including polymers, thermal control coatings and nano-composites.
"I'm very happy with what I've seen so far," said Finckenor. "For NASA's new exploration project, we'll need to use proven technology. We can take what we've learned from MISSE to show how well these materials really did in space. We're going to get a lot of good science from this."
Boeing's Gary Pippin would agree. His main goal was to test products including radiation shielding, specialty composites, polymers and environmental monitors.
"The biggest single thing we've seen so far is the background cleanliness of the hardware," said Pippin. "We were pleasantly surprised to see that it's the cleanest experiment to come down from space. A lot of samples reacted and were degraded."
The only way to determine how different materials will perform in space is to test them in that environment. Laboratories can simulate just one or two space environmental factors at a time. The research from MISSE will provide the insight needed to develop materials for future spacecraft and will also help researchers make materials and coatings that will last longer on Earth. NASA Langley's main experiments were materials developed to function in space for prolonged missions.
"I am excited and satisfied with another great NASA team accomplishment. Last week left me feeling charged with excitement to get on with the job of analyzing the results," said NASA Langley's Bill Kinard, MISSE principal investigator.
Another researcher traveled to NASA Langley for the grand opening - Donald Roxby of Siemens, Huntsville, Ala. He was looking at an experiment different from the others; instead of polymers and coatings, Roxby came to see how markings designed to label parts endured their stay in the harsh space environment.
"Most marking processes have been used for decades and are designed for ground use," said Roxby. "Those processes worked fine when satellites were burned on re-entry. But, now that satellites are recovered, we need the markings to stay."
MISSEs 1 and 2 brought back six different additive marking process experiments, while MISSEs 3 and 4 will carry three more. The research will enable all airplane and spacecraft parts to be marked with vital information.
"On orbit, astronauts seeing a damaged tile won't need to count tiles from a certain point for reference," said Roxby. "With this technology, they'll be able to scan the tile and send the information directly to researchers on Earth to communicate the problem."
The MISSE Project is funded jointly by NASA and the Department of Defense (DoD) Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). The NASA Langley Research Center manages the project. Experiments were provided by NASA field centers, DoD laboratories and industry and university partners.
A special session of papers presenting the results of the MISSE 1 and 2 experiments is planned for the DoD- and AFRL- hosted National Space and Missiles Materials Symposium, which will be held in June 2006 in Orlando, Fla. This session will provide an opportunity for the MISSE principle investigators to share their results with the developers of future spacecraft.
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Video from the MISSE 'grand opening' and first week of initial examinations will run on NASA TV. NASA TV is carried on the Web and on an MPEG-2 digital signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. It's available in Alaska and Hawaii on AMC-7, at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18C, at 4060 MHz, horizontal polarization. A Digital Video Broadcast compliant Integrated Receiver Decoder is required for reception. For NASA TV information and schedules on the Web, visit:
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