The Power to Inspire: The Effectiveness of International Space Station Education Projects

This week guest blogger Camille Alleyne,International Space Station assistant program scientist, shares her experiencesin station educational outreach with the readers of A Lab Aloft.

As I go through my busy workday, absorbed in the detailsof my part to help support the International Space Station Program ScienceOffice, I rarely stop to think about the impact the work that my colleagues andI do has on the general populace. That was until last week, when I got toexperience first-hand the power of our educational programs to inspire generations.I was invited to participate in the 10thannual Caribbean Youth Science Forum that was held in Trinidad and Tobago,my birth country. This event brought together over 300 high school seniors from6 Caribbean countries who were interested in pursuing careers in science,engineering and technology.

Participants in theCaribbean Youth Science Forum with Camille Alleyne, second right (back row).
(Image courtesy of Trinidad ExpressNewspapers/Ishmael Salandy)

Given my position within NASA, I was invited to the forumand asked to do an interactive workshop with these students on a space-relatedtopic. Suspecting that these students had very rarely, if at all, thoughtseriously about space exploration, I wanted to create an experience for them.My goal was to not only expand their minds, but motivate and inspire them tobelieve in themselves and to dare to dream big.

That is exactly what happened when the forum’s studentshad the opportunity to participate in the International Space Station Ham Radio,or ISSHam Radio, project. This investigation, which uses ham radio technology, allowedstudents to make real-time contact with the crew members aboard the spacestation for a question and answer session. The ham radio communication was anhistoric event for the Caribbean region and one that fulfilled my education objective.ISS Ham Radio is a space station educational program with a global reach, givingstudents from all over the world an ability to talk to astronauts andcosmonauts as they work and live in space.

The scene during the ham radio communication included anauditorium filled with students abuzz with excitement as they waited for theactual contact to begin. The space station, on a trajectory towards SouthAmerica, was viewed on a giant screen that projected the world map and track ofthe station to help students visualize the orbiting laboratory’s location. Directcontact while the station was over Trinidad and Tobago was not possible, as thecrew would have been in their sleep period during direct flyover, so atelebridge connection was constructed. In other words, the call was scheduledto take place while the station was overhead of and able to obtain a directlink with another location—in this case, Argentina. Once established, theconnection was relayed to the Caribbean via an Argentinean ground station.

The event and contact were moderated by Steve McFarlene, amentor and radio operator based out of Canada. The Canadian team connected withthe Argentinean team over regular telephone lines in preparation for the groundstation to make the contact to the ham radio aboard the space station.

Twenty minutes before the contact, as the station enteredthe path that makes the contact possible, McFarlene gave an introduction andwelcomed the students of the region to the historic event of the first evercontact from space to the Caribbean. He asked the first student to do a test toensure a loud and clear communication. After the test, the local organizers ofevent had an opportunity to introduce themselves and the schools and studentsrepresented there. McFarlene then prompted the team from Argentina to introducethemselves. The growing excitement was palatable in the auditorium! 

At precisely 11:13 EDT, McFarlene gave the go-ahead tostart the event. Organizers queued up the 12 students chosen to read theirquestions to the space station crew and then a voice came over the speakersaying “testing, testing.” It was the voice of Satoshi Furukawa, the JAXA crew memberaboard the space station—my heart skipped a beat. We had made contact! 

Students asking Satoshi Furukawa their questions. Fromleft to right: Jonathan Gosyne, Presentation College Chaguanas; Adam Hanna,Queen’s Royal College; Oliver Maynard, TA Marryshow College, Grenada; andMichael Green, Deputy Director of Operations, TTARL.
(Credit: DesireeSampson/NIHERST)

The room was awed silence as the first student asked hisquestion: “Hi, I am Carlos. Howis the ISS powered and how does the station use its power source to maintainorbit? Over!” Satoshi responded and then the next student asked their question.Before an answer was communicated, something unexpected happened—the connectionwent dead! There was a gasp in the room and McFarlene announced that we had lost the connection. Thankfully,about 60 seconds later, we heard Satoshi’s voice again as contact was restored.

The rest of the eventwent flawlessly and all 12 students received answers to their well thought-outquestions. At 11:23 EDT, the connection dropped as the station continued on itspath out of the range for Argentinean communication. The room erupted in applauseas this historic contact successfully completed.

As the forumcontinued over the next few days, news of the event captivated the populace asit was broadcast across the region’s airwaves. During the course of the week, Ialso had an opportunity to meet with students to talk about their dreams of careersin engineering and science. Student after student told me how inspirationalthose moments were when we made contact with the station crew. A boy namedSharaz, who happened to be one of the 12 lucky students who spoke with thestation astronaut, expressed to me that being a part of the event was the bestmoment of his life; a moment he will never forget! Other students communicatedthat they knew anything was possible for their lives now, because of thisexperience.

It can be a challengehere in International Space Station Program Science Office to measure theeffectiveness of programs that we implement. As we work with educators to designactivities, our goal is to motivate the next generation of scientists, thinkers,innovators and explorers. What I found, based on my experience with theCaribbean ham radio contact, is that our work is not only meeting objectives, inspiringfor generations to come! 

Camille Alleyne
Credit: Jackie Hicks)

Camille Alleyne is an Assistant ProgramScientist for the International Space Station Program Science Office with NASA’sJohnson Space Center where she is responsible for leading the areas of communicationsand education. Prior to this, she served as the Deputy Manager for the OrionCrew and Service Module Test and Verification program.  She holds a Bachelor of Science degree inMechanical Engineering from Howard University, a Master of Science degree inMechanical Engineering (Composite Materials) from Florida A&M Universityand a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering (Hypersonics) fromUniversity of Maryland. She is currently working on her Doctorate in ScienceEducation at the University of Houston.

A Station with a View: The Importance of Earth View to Crew Mental Health

Our exploration future is focused on the goal of sending humans beyond Earth orbit. This is an incredible aim and the International Space Station has an important role to play in the achievement. If you are following this blog and the stories published on the International Space Station Research and Technology Website, you already know of many investigations that support NASA’s objective. In fact, the very experience of living on the space station can provide important insight into human health, leading to benefits for future explorers.

One aspect of long-duration spaceflight you may not have considered is the experience of isolation that can impact the psychological well being of crewmembers. Those lucky enough to experience interplanetary travel will be cut off from their families, homes, and even their planet. As the explorers travel, even the comfortingly familiar green and blue globe of Earth will resemble a feint blue dot.

A recent crew survey found that astronauts reported one area of spaceflight they found particularly enriching involved their perception of the Earth. The flip side to this finding is the implication that the lack of an Earth view may negatively impact crew psychological well being. To seek verification of this emotional tie to a view of our planet, my colleagues and I chose to examine available data from the Crew Earth Observations or CEO. The goal was to see if there was a correlation between crew photography and mental well being based on the frequency of self-initiated images vs. those mandated by scientific directives.

Astronaut Jeff Williams prepares to photograph
the Earth from the Zvezda Service Module
aboard the International Space Station.
(NASA image)

These images reside in an online collection of imagery called the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. In the recently published paper, Patterns in Crew-Initiated Photography of Earth from ISS—Is Earth Observation a Salutogenic Experience?, we looked at the photos taken between Expedition 4 and Expedition 11. This duration spanned from December 2001 to October 2005 and provided 144,180 Earth images to review. Of these photos, 15.5% were taken by space station crewmembers in response to requests by scientists. This means that the other 84.5% were crew-initiated photographs.

This crew-initiated image of São Paulo, Brazil, at night is an example of photography using a
homemade tracking system to capture long-exposure images under low light conditions,
which was assembled by astronaut Don Pettit.
(NASA image ISS006E44689)

Upon examining the images, the data showed that crewmembers took more photos when they had free time. When ramping up for increased activity on orbit, voluntary photography declined, whereas during reduced times of work, imagery increased. Likewise, if the crewmember was already at the window with the camera in hand for a CEO objective, they were more likely to continue photographing the Earth. The longer the individual was on station the more frequently they photographed the Earth, likely due to task familiarity and general acquaintance with station life.

Surprisingly, there was no connection between crewmember photography and areas of specific interest—such as hometowns or birthplaces. This may have to do with the fact that in this study these places were chosen by the researchers, rather than by the crewmembers themselves. Perhaps a future examination delving into the crew’s preference, as compared with the available data, may show alternate findings.

There was also an element of challenge via Earth photography, including learning and perfecting a new skill with the station cameras, that appears to have engaged the crew’s interest. For instance, the choice to shoot more frequently with the 800mm lens, a much more difficult focal length to manage and control, implies enjoyment. For the same reason someone may pick up a crossword puzzle, those on the space station may seek to fill time with tasks of mental dexterity. This implies the benefits of providing extended exploration participants with not only a creative outlet, but objectives that require intellectual acuity.

This view, taken with using the 800-millimeter lens combination, shows a portion of an image
of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, taken during Expedition 13 by
astronaut Jeff Williams from aboard the International Space Station.
(NASA image ISS013E65111)

When you consider that a round trip mission to Mars could last as long as three years, it is not hard to understand why we are concerned about possible negative psychological impacts of isolation and confinement. As for all our human exploration risks, we are seeking ways to mitigate the impacts. The significantly large percent of images that were self-initiated in this study indicates that—time permitting—viewing, photographing, and subsequently sharing pictures of Earth is important to crewmembers. Likewise, providing challenging, enjoyable, and comforting leisure activities for the crew may be the key to securing long-term mental health while they are far from home.

Julie A. Robinson, Ph.D.
International Space Station Program Scientist


Sharing the Love

This week on A Lab Aloft, comments from guest blogger Justin Kugler, Systems Engineer with the National Laboratory Office, as he recalls his experience at the STS-135 Tweetup at Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Our mission in the International Space Station National Laboratory Office is to make the unique capabilities of the station more open to other government agencies, industry partners, and education programs. Fulfilling that mandate from Congress has introduced me to a wide variety of researchers, technologists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and educators. I have every expectation that the National Lab portfolio will only grow more eclectic with time.

As the admin for the National Lab Office Twitter account, @ISS_NatLab, it was exciting to move out from behind the keyboard and take the stage at the STS-135 Launch Tweetup at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. on July 7, 2011. Presenting alongside me was scientist Tracy Thumm with the International Space Station Program Scientist’s Office. This is a great example of how NASA has embraced the power of social media to connect with the public and share our stories.

Tracy Thumm and Justin Kugler
speak at the STS-135 NASA
Tweetup (NASA image)

Back home, our colleges with @ISS_Research supported the Tweetup and posted updates for our followers on Twitter. Tracy and I spoke about the science, technology, and exploration research planned for the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program and aboard the space station. In addition to the physical group of 150 of NASA’s biggest fans, we had countless virtual participants through the live video stream and online forums.

Some of the topics we covered for STS-135 included advanced vaccine research and the J. Craig Venter Institute’s bacteriological survey of the station environment. I also had the privilege of presenting some of the new technologies that will be broken in on the station in preparation for future deep space exploration, such as new carbon dioxide scrubbers, non-toxic propellants, inflatable modules, and advanced telerobotics. 

I really enjoyed the Q&A session that followed my talk, as it allowed us to answer in greater detail how research opportunities are expanding on the station. For example, I shared a training module from a commercial partner, NanoRacks, LLC. This 10-cm cubed platform, with USB port for power and data, houses and integrates small experiments aboard the station. Using ready-made platforms like this enables researchers with a good idea, but relatively little funding to obtain sustained exposure to the microgravity environment. We also talked about the planned use of commercial lab equipment—such as a plate reader—modified for the station that will allow NASA to send data back to researchers on the ground without having to return samples. This reduces the time lag to get results.

My colleague Tracy fielded a question regarding the length of time till scientist see results from station research. In fact, we are already seeing results, such as a recently published study on the stability of pharmaceuticals in space. The International Space Station Research and Technology Website keeps tabs on the results, as they become available to the public. The actual duration for results varies from investigation to investigation.

One of my favorite questions, though, was about what we still need to learn to send humans on long-duration missions and where people can learn more. There are, relatively speaking, only a handful of data points for how the human body behaves in the space environment and billions of data points here on Earth. We understand very little of what happens in between, such as with the one-third-normal gravity of Mars. Future human research studies on the station will help us fill in those gaps so we can design vehicles and missions to keep human explorers healthy, safe, and sane on their journeys. NASA’s Human Research Roadmap covers this in much greater detail.

Later, I was told that the tent was quiet—except for the background hum of the portable air conditioners—because everyone was listening intently, taking notes for their blogs or posting our answers in real-time to Twitter. Attendees continued to come up to Tracy and I to ask questions about the work being done on the station throughout the rest of the event.

The Tweetup also included a special visit from Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and an entertaining interview between astronauts Mike Massimino and Doug Wheelock and Sesame Street star, Elmo. The Muppet, interestingly enough, had as many questions as the astronauts! 

Sesame Street’s Elmo interviews
astronauts Mike Massimino and
Doug Wheelock at the STS-135
NASA Tweetup.
(NASA Image)

After the rains of that Thursday passed, the attendees all made their way out to the lawn near Pad 39A to visit the shuttle Atlantis. The crowd was electrified by the breathtaking unveiling of the orbiter, as the rotating service structure retracted from view to clear the pad for launch. Despite the amorphous grey clouds in the background, the stark contrast between the orange external tank, black and white thermal tiles on the orbiter, and the white cylinders of the boosters was truly riveting.

The rotating service structure
retracting from Atlantis
(Image courtesy of Justin Kugler)

Surprises were in store for the Tweetup participants throughout the morning of launch day. This included a visit from astronaut legend, Bob Crippen, and the introduction of Bear McCreary’s “Fanfare” for STS-135 by Seth Green (an unabashed NASA enthusiast). As the hours rolled by, the anticipation was at a fever pitch. The weather was progressively improving and everyone had a sense that the launch would actually happen.

The passing of the Astrovan further raised the level of anticipation. We had our first indication that the “final four” were close from the passing of the escort helicopter. A spontaneous cheer went up when the van and its security entourage turned the corner and came into view. There was one last stop to let off anyone not going to the pad, then the crew of Atlantis pressed on to their destination and a beautiful launch!

One last stop for the Astrovan.
(Image courtesy of Justin Kugler)

After Atlantis’ ascent, people made their way back to their laptops in the Tweetup tent or established a connection with their smartphone, the blog posts, Tweets, and picture uploads resumed en masse. Each of the Tweetup attendees became an ambassador to the rest of the world for NASA.

That relationship is what NASA Tweetups are all about. Even in the twilight of the Space Shuttle Program, the love and passion for spaceflight was alive and well in us all. I believe it is the responsibility of those who experienced the final shuttle launch—NASA employees and honored guests alike—to share this connection with the rest of the world and to look forward to the next decade of research on the space station.

The Tweetups are successful because they embody more than just telling people about what we do at NASA. Attendees have the chance to participate and share the story on their own terms. It is this bond between NASA and the public that can sustain interest in and support for our nation’s space program and future exploration. We still have a lot of work to do on the space station and to prepare for missions in deep space, so I look forward to many more Tweetups to come.

The STS-135 Launch Tweetup participants.
(NASA image)

Justin Kugler works at NASA Johnson Space Center in the International Space Station National Laboratory Office. There he supports systems integration activities for science payloads. He has a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Texas A&M University and a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Rice University.


Why the International Space Station? Technology Demonstration

Thisweek, comments from guest blogger Brian Rishikof, Vice President of InnovativeSpace Propulsion Systems, LLC, as he comments on the International SpaceStation as a unique test bed for the aerospace industry.

New technology requires rigorous testing prior to productionand deployment, and this is especially true for the aerospace industry. Whendeveloping for space, however, you have a unique set of requirements that canlimit your testing platform options. This is why the International SpaceStation is such an asset for industry growth and progress.

Innovative Space Propulsion Systems, LLC, for instance, isworking on high-performance, non-toxic (or “green”) monopropellant replacementsfor in-space chemical propulsion systems, called NOFBX®. Using a simple, feedsystem and lightweight engines capable of deep throttling and operation fromany fluid phase, we hope to revolutionize spaceflight and associated groundoperations with radically improved safety, minimal pollutants and reducedcosts.

While there will be significant testing on the ground,flight testing is necessary to truly achieve full requirements verification for—andcustomer confidence in—the NOFBX® system. Ground testing allows us tocharacterize the system and resolve all issues for safe demonstration on thespace station, getting us to technology readiness levels of 6 to 7 (on a scaleof 1 to 10). This range represents the development to demonstration phases ofthe product in analogous environments. A flight experiment, however, canachieve a readiness level of 8 to 9, which seeks to demonstrate actual operationsin the intended environment. From a corporate and commercial perspective, thisis essential.

Theimage above is a Computer Aided Design representation of baseline NOFBX flight experiment pallet.
(Courtesy of Brian Rishikof)

Although the behavior and performance of a productundergoing testing can be well characterized on the ground, certain conditionsrequired for our test objectives cannot be replicated. For example, long-termexposure to the space environment, thermal cycling, microgravity, etc. cannotbe fully simulated on the ground. They are only achievable on platforms such asspace station or, to some extent, with suborbital flights. Our company wants tocharacterize how the system behaves and performs over time by running selectedtests after long quiescent/dormant periods when the system is completelyunpowered, however, which obviates the effectiveness of suborbital testingplatforms.

The space station also has many unique advantages as a testbed. It is already equipped with well-defined services for all the necessaryresources: power, data, mechanical, and analytical needs. It is, after all,designed to function as a laboratory. These resources reduce the complexity,technical risk, and total cost for users performing tests and investigations. Thespace station also supports video download, permits testing over an extendedperiod, and provides generous mass/volume/power capabilities. This allows forrapid design and flight of a human spaceflight safety-compliant system that willaddress thruster characterization, propellant transfer, and extended operationsobjectives in a single payload.

Above is an image of the prototype thrust
chamber and nozzle.
(Courtesy of Brian Rishikof)

Given the criticality of flight heritage in developing and commercializingthis technology, the station offers the shortest conceivable time-to-flight(~18 months), as well. In other words, the maturity and availability of thestation, and opportunities for transportation to the station, allows us topursue an aggressive schedule for in-space testing and demonstration, which inturn allows us to get to a marketable product sooner.

Employing ISS as a test platform accelerates the scheduleand significantly improves the business case (and U.S. competitiveness),because it allows timely consideration within the commercial crew developmentarena. This is of particular interest to my company as other “green”monopropulsion systems, some of which have already flown, are penetrating thecustomer market. Based on our review, the performance and other attributes ofour propellant and propulsion systems offer significant advantages.Demonstrating a superior alternative as quickly as possible will facilitatemarket penetration and accelerate U.S. competitiveness and achieve leadershipboth domestically and internationally. This will also accelerate theavailability of the cost and safety benefits to the U.S. government andgovernment suppliers.

Safety considerations also benefit from space stationtesting. The space station-based flight test positively enforces compliancewith all the safety requirements associated with operation of the propulsionsystem at, or in the vicinity of, the space station. There currently is noexisting established standard for bringing a new aerospace propulsion systeminto manned spaceflight applications. The space station safety review process isthe closest standard for acceptance testing a new system for human spaceflight.

It has become clear in my discussions with many potentialcustomers and users that the actual flight test in space changes perspectives. Provenflight heritage transforms casual interest into true consideration for missionapplications, such as commercial crew and cargo delivery to the space station.I constantly get asked, “Has it flown, yet?” or, “When will it fly?” Part ofthis customer interest derives from engagement with the NASA space stationteam, which provides access to independent expertise, processes, equipment andexperience. This adds significantly to the rigor of our combined work, and the necessaryconfidence that the end product is ready to be safely used at the space station,and by other customers for other applications.

Business operates on a global level, and the space stationprovides an unprecedented opportunity for domestic and international exposure.The station platform receives significantly more attention than other spaceassets, therefore enabling awareness and knowledge of the technology across amuch broader segment of the U.S. government and commercial industries. Inaddition, the international nature of the space station can generate interestfrom the international community and catalyze business opportunities and accessto new markets. This is not be possible on any other test platform, making thespace station a truly unique resource.

Brian Rishikof is VicePresident of Innovative Space Propulsion Systems, LLC and Program Manager forthe ISS-bound NOFBX Flight Demonstration Experiment. ISPS is chartered with advancingNOFBX® propulsion technologies and bringing them to the commercial andgovernment markets. Brian is also a founder and CEO of Odyssey Space Research,LLC, which specializes in Guidance, Navigation and Control, systemsengineering, software, analysis, and human spaceflight safety.

NASA readies to launch the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

This week on A Lab Aloft, guest bloggers Trent Martin and Ken Bollweg share their recollections of working on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and their excitement as the investigation ramps up to launch on STS-134, scheduled for May 16, 2011.

With the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-134 mission, the hopes and dreams of over 600 physicists, engineers and technicians from 60 institutes in 16 different nations will be carried to International Space Station. The flight is poised to take the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer – 02 or AMS-02 to its final perch on the top of the space station, where it will finally begin its much anticipated operations.

The AMS-02 is a high energy physics experiment that employs a large magnet—which produces a strong, uniform magnetic field—combined with a state of the art precision spectrometer to search for antimatter, dark matter, and to understand cosmic ray propagation in the universe. The large international team working on this project is led by Nobel laureate Professor Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The payload is sponsored by the United States Department of Energy, but funding comes from all over the world. This type of international collaboration is common in the world of high energy physics research for the last 50 years and is starting to become more common in the space science community. To date, AMS is the most diversely funded space-based science detector ever built. This is the type of collaboration that NASA hopes the space station National Laboratory will help continue to foster in the space scientific community.

Development of AMS was required to follow NASA standards for flight and ground safety and NASA retained the right to veto anything that violated those requirements. The AMS Collaboration has official responsibility for mission assurance though all the experiment hardware and software were developed to accommodate NASA recommendations for compatibility, reliability, and redundancy.

The successful precursor flight of AMS-01 on STS-91 took place with the last Shuttle-Mir mission in June 1998. There were some communications issues, due to a failed Ku-Band antenna, but the AMS detector performed as expected. The prototype engineering evaluation flight led to improved sensitivity of the measurement of antihelium and helium flux ratio by one part per million and AMS is expected to improve this to one part per billion.

View from Mir of AMS-01 and SpaceHab on STS-91
in June 1998.
(Image courtesy of NASA)

Work on a much more complex version of AMS began immediately after the completion of the STS-91 mission. With numerous increases in size, mass, and interfaces, the need for a second Unique Support Structure or USS-02 became apparent. The versatility of the new carrier was proven as the final payload weight increased from 9,197 to 15,251 lb. The first major upgrade was to change from a permanent version to a more powerful cryogenic superconducting superfluid helium-cooled magnet. Hundreds of internal and external interface, manufacturing, testing, and assembly problems were solved on the way to delivering the cryogenic magnet to the AMS Collaboration.

AMS integrated with the USS-02 and Vacuum Case in
the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at KSC,
March 2011.
(Image courtesy of NASA)

The complexity of the experiment and its interfaces continued to increase as the number of data channels grew from ~70,000 on AMS-01 to over 300,000 on AMS-02.  The tremendous amount of data the experiment is expected to produce required detailed command and data interface coordination with the space shuttle and station. When the decision was made to extend the life of the ISS, the AMS Collaboration decided it would benefit the experiment to use the infinite life of the original Permanent Magnet instead of the limited life of the Cryogenic Magnet. 

Of course, without the space shuttle there would be no way of getting AMS to the space. The shuttle, which will retire this year, provides the gentlest ride to space of any manned or unmanned launch system ever developed. What’s more, without the space station, there would be no location for operations. The station solar arrays make the station the only currently available resource platform capable of generating enough energy to power the AMS and successfully run the investigation.

The ISS National Laboratory is just beginning to realize its potential as a research facility and the AMS investigation will play a significant role in helping to achieve this goal. The station provides guidance, navigation, and attitude control for the experiment. It also provides power, command, and data systems to control the experiment and to relay its data to the ground. NASA provides the tracking relay data satellites, ground stations, and control centers to transfer the commands and data to/from the AMS Payload Operations Control Centers at Johnson Space Center and at CERN.

AMS (foreground) as it will appear when attached to the International
Space Station National Laboratory.
(Image courtesy of NASA)

AMS-02 Ready for Launch in Endeavour’s Payload Bay April 2011.
(Image courtesy of M. Famiglietti)

Although the primary purpose of the AMS-02 payload is to search for antimatter and dark matter, the detector represents the most advanced charge particle detector ever flown in space. In the words of Prof. Ting, “The issues of antimatter in the universe and the origin of Dark Matter probe the foundations of modern physics,” but more importantly “the most exciting objective of AMS is to probe the unknown; to search for phenomena which exist in nature that we have not yet imagined nor had the tools to discover.” With AMS-02, we may now have those tools.

It has been an honor to work with the AMS Collaboration and Nobel prize winner, Professor Ting. I look forward to the launch of this incredible particle detector and to the discoveries and strides it will yield for the field of physics.

Trent Martin is the AMS Project Manager from the Johnson Space Center. He has worked on AMS since 1995 in various capacities for both Lockheed Martin and NASA. In addition, he currently manages the JSC James Webb Space Telescope activities and is a branch chief in the Engineering Directorate.

Ken Bollweg is the AMS Deputy Project Manager from Johnson Space Center. He has worked on AMS since 1994 in various capacities for both Lockheed Martin and NASA. Over the last five years, he and his family has spent three years living in Europe during the integration of AMS.

The Advantage of Laboratory Time in Space

This week, commentsfrom guest blogger and International Space Station Principal Investigator Dr.Mark Weislogel, as he reflects on the importance, advantages and joys oflong-duration investigations on the space station.

Scientists who have not used the International Space Stationbefore don’t always have a feel for how space experiments can be as successful,if not more so than those using other low-g environments. Researchers used tothe shuttle experience think in terms of a very small window of time to makechanges and adapt. Short duration investigations are intense and competitive.In hindsight, it seems they are high risk. If you have a three-hour slot to runyour experiment and some setback occurs that cannot be resolved, you lose aportion of your data.

On the space station this can also happen, but when youengage in long-duration investigations, you quickly realize that you have timeto think things over. Because of this, when unexpected events occur, you canrespond in a creative and curious way. The success factor of long-durationexperiments is high—barring any failures in equipment, a risk in any lab. Infact, you are very likely to discover things you would not anticipate; thingscompletely peripheral to the goal, which you will observe for the first time,due to man’s limited experience in microgravity.

When a setback occurs on the station, you get partialresults and then the investigation goes into storage or offline for a time.When you come back, you’ve had time to think about things. In my experiencewith the CapillaryFlow Experiment or CFE, the participating astronaut also had suggestions,an advantage to working with humans in space. Procedures were changed around fromthe previous run and we ended up with more data than ever planned and saw newthings en route. [Ground operations for the CFE investigation took place at theNational Center for Microgravity Research and Glenn Research Center, Cleveland,Ohio.]

NASA astronaut ScottKelly, Expedition 26 commander, works on the hardware setup for a CapillaryFlow Experiment (CFE) Vane Gap-1 experiment. The CFE is positioned on theMaintenance Work Area in the Destiny laboratory of the International SpaceStation. CFE observes the flow of fluid, in particular capillary phenomena, inmicrogravity.
(NASA Image ISS026E017024)

Transitions in fluid locations due to slight changes incontainer geometry. As a central vane is rotated in this elliptic cylindercontainer critical wetting geometries are established leading to wicking alongthe vane-wall gap, and/or a bulk shift of fluid from right to left.
(Image Credit: Suni Williams)

Time and resources factor into any discovery, of course, andsignificant astronautinvolvement makes a big difference, too; certainly more so than inautomated or robotic investigations. But even with the CapillaryChannel Flow or CCF investigation that I am working on right now, it is amazing! If you have a pump and some valves, you can configure them in many ways you did not anticipate and widen your data set. You want to get what you planned on, but it is a delight to get all this extra information that you never expected!

My previous experience dealt with handheld, smallexperiments, so to me CCF is a complicated investigation. CCF is focused ontwo-phase flow—a liquid system with gas bubbles. In space, the gas does notrise and we have not had many opportunities to study systems like this inmicrogravity. The investigation has pumps and valves and plungers andseparation chambers. While there are other studies devoted only to two-phaseflow, CCF has two-phase flow all throughout it just to generate the flow thatwe are interested in watching. CCF operates continuously, controlled from theground through the Microgravity Science Glovebox or MSG interface and does notrequire crew interaction.

We have gotten to the point with CCF where we can get around20 data points per day and we are on our way to where we can get hundreds andhundreds of data points in a 24/7 operation. The system is working, thoughthere are setbacks—often times with loss of signal during our commanding or dueto our own thing—in trying to take inventories of where the fluids and gasesare in the system. We are regularly downloading high resolution, high speedimages and plotting them right alongside of our analysis on the ground andseeing new things there, too. The 24/7 collection is exhausting, but we know wecan do it!

In the image above, single and multi-bubble migration and phaseseparation are driven passively by specific control of container shape. A taper ina polygonal sectioned conduit leads to capillary pumping of liquid from rightto left driving bubble left to right. Such mechanisms may be invoked by fluidsystems aboard spacecraft to separate and store fluids by phase without movingparts.
(Image Credit:
Scott Kelly and Cady Colemen)

On the ground, the joint German-US team started with 24/7 operationsto learn the experiment in the first 2 to 3 weeks. Then the team travelled toGermany and slowed the pace, learned the system, then ramped up again to 24/7operations. [Development and ground operations for CCF take place at the GermanAerospace Center, headquartered in Cologne, Germany.] Our operations are muchmore controlled than before, because we were working 16-hour days to supportthat. The team then continued running for a few weeks until we finished ourfirst set of objectives.

Unexpected developments are part of the joy in microgravityinvestigations. When you make a discovery, you think, “Oh my, of course thisshould happen!” But no one has seen it before, because no one has had this nicelow-g environment for such a long duration. This is fun because it kindles the samekind of excitement that you have in your lab when you are definitelydiscovering something. It’s very exciting!

The thing is that the chances for discovery are much higherwith long-duration investigations on the space station. This is because we do notlive in that environment. You may be trying to verify a theory—and that isgreat—but en route you are very likely to see things to compliment orsupplement your investigation and even take you in different directions. Youwon’t have thought of these discoveries until you actually see them. That’swhat it is like with fluids in microgravity, as well as with combustion, materialsscience, and other fields.

One thing I feel very good about is that most of myinvestigation results can apply in the real world right away. Our work hasalready led to design concepts to improve the performance and reliability ofadvanced systems, such as condensing heat exchangers and waste-water treatmentdevices. It can also help with liquid fuel tank and fuel transfer designs. Theresults give new insight, confirm theories, and are useful for space and groundresearch. So there is not always a long lead time between the science productsand their use. This generates a good feeling, seeing that there is contributionin an observable timescale. This is not common in science and usually takesdecades to realize. Instead, these results can improve design and space systemdesign right now.

Dr. Mark Weislogel isa professor in the Thermal and Fluid Sciences Group in the Maseeh College ofEngineering and Computer Science at Portland State University. He has researchexperience from government and private institutions. While employed by NASA, heproposed and conducted experiments relating to microgravity fluid mechanics.This unique subtopic area within fluid mechanics provides significantchallenges for designers of fluids management systems for aerospaceapplications. Weislogel continues to make extensive use of NASA ground-basedlow-gravity facilities and has completed experiments via space shuttle, theRussian Mir Space Station, and the International Space Station. While in theprivate sector, Weislogel served as principal investigator for applied researchprojects concerning high-performance heat transport systems,micrometeorite-safe space-based radiators, microscale cooling systems,emergency oxygen supply systems, and astronaut sleep stations. His current researchincludes passive non-capillary cooling cycles for satellite thermal control andcapillary fluidics at both micro- and macro length scales. Weislogel has writtenover 50 publications; see further details.

Three Misconceptions about the International Space Station

This week on A Lab Aloft, International Space Station Program Science Office Research Communications Specialist Jessica Nimon shares answers to some of the more frequently asked questions she receives about the International Space Station.

Recently I attended two different public forums as a representative for the International Space Station Program Scientist’s Office. It was an exciting opportunity to share information about the station with the public and to get some feedback in return. The first event, Space Day on the Capitol in Austin, Texas, was a chance to speak with state legislators, visiting students and even tourists. A week later, I went to Colorado Springs for the National Space Symposium, which was more of a traditional conference setting for space businesses and enthusiasts.

Children and educators converge
at the State Capitol for inspiring
and informational activities.
(Credit: NASA)

My main objective at these events was to educate and answer questions regarding the research done on the space station. I anticipated a varied set of queries, but was surprised to find that when it came down to it, attendees at both events had similar misconceptions regarding the station. So in this blog, I hope to take a few moments of your time to correct the three most frequent misunderstandings regarding this amazing orbiting laboratory.

Misconception 1: The space station ends with the space shuttle

While the public seems well aware of the impending retirement of the space shuttle fleet, they are mixed in their understanding of what this means for the space station. Quite a few people asked me, “Does the space station retire with the shuttle?” In a word, no. The international partner agreements plan to continue to operate the space station through the year 2020. Now that we are finally at assembly complete, the entire International Space Station program is ready for full utilization for research and technology investigations!

While we may not arrive there via the space shuttle any longer, we continue to have crew travel capabilities with the Russian Soyuz. In fact, American astronauts have successfully and safely flown with the Russians on Soyuz for many years. American companies are also pursuing new crew vehicle options to offer transportation to the space station in the future. The question of upmass—the capability to lift large amounts of payload and supply weight—will continue to be addressed with international partner unmanned transport vehicles: JAXA HTV and ESA ATV, as well as two new American commercial resupply vehicles: Space X Dragon and Orbital Cygnus.

Misconception 2: Scientists do not need the space station

One of my favorite questions to pose to the student groups that would visit the NASA booth at the National Space Symposium was “what is the space station used for?” Sometimes a shy hand would raise and a boy or girl would offer that the station was built for research. More often than not, however, I was met with complete silence and a sea of blinking eyes. What an opportunity to educate these young minds on the fascinating purpose of the station!

Pointing to the scale model—which was to 1/100 the size of the space station, situated above a mini football field to illustrate the actual size—my colleagues and I took turns explaining. From the very beginning, the point of this unique facility was to perform experiments in the microgravity environment of low Earth orbit. It is interesting to note that investigations were conducted during the course of assembly, as well. Because the research did not have to wait for station completion, we are already seeing results from the early studies in space, which is remarkable!

Not only can scientists use the space station for short- and long-duration investigations, but they can also participate in the growing body of knowledge generated from their predecessors. Space station research has been published in prestigious science journals and continues to generate spinoff benefits. This information stands to serve people across the globe. When investigations yield results, they have the potential to cross all boundaries—gender, race, socioeconomic, etc. Reading this blog and the space station research and technology Web pages are a great way to keep up with emerging benefits.

The International Space Station length and width is about
the size of a football field.
(NASA Image)

Misconception 3: When the shuttle retires, there won’t be Americans in orbit

While I was at the National Space Symposium, there was a space station sighting opportunity for the Colorado Springs area. I shared this viewing prospect with visitors at the NASA exhibit. Some were amazed that they could go out onto their lawn, gaze at the sky, and see what appears to be a bright, fast-moving star and really be looking at an international orbiting laboratory. It was fun to remind people that while they stare up, the crew may be looking down, too.

This idea of humans in orbit provides the chance to share an important milestone reached in November of 2010—the space station now has a track record of over a decade of continued human presence in orbit! With the impending shuttle retirement, however, some fear that the days of Americans in space are numbered. Since crewmembers will fly via the Russian Soyuz, there is a misapprehension that only Russians will get to view back at Earth from the station in the future. The population of the space station, however, will remain as international as the collaboration that built it. Not only will we still have an American presence in space, but we will continue to have participants from all over the world. Currently we have two Americans, three Russians, and a European crewmember working in orbit.

NASA astronaut Catherine (Cady) Coleman and European Space Agency
astronaut Paolo Nespoli, both Expedition 26 flight engineers, use still cameras
at windows in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station
during rendezvous and docking activities of space shuttle Discovery (STS-133).
(NASA Image ISS026-E-030172)

The international investment has already been made in the space station. Now is the time to not only continue use, but to ramp up our employment of this unique resource. Scientists have the upcoming decade to ask questions and send up investigations to make the most of the asset we have in this incredible laboratory.

Jessica Nimon worked in the aerospace industry as a technical writer for seven years before joining the International Space Station Program Science Office as the Research Communications Specialist. Jessica composes Web features, blog entries, and manages the @ISS_Research Twitter feed to share space station research and technology news with the public. She has a master’s degree in English from the University of Dallas.


ISS Research in the Decade Ahead

International Space Station astronaut Suni Williams recently addressed a symposium at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) annual meeting regarding research in extreme environments. In this entry for A Lab Aloft, she shares her perspective on extreme research on the International Space Station.

The upcoming decade of utilization is an exciting time for the International Space Station. As an astronaut, I had the opportunity to help build the station, to live and work on it, and I hope to go back someday. I think many people are unaware of the different aspects of this incredible laboratory: the various control centers; the communications that are involved just to prepare, make, and operate the station; as well as the different countries involved. Just providing operations for the station requires a tremendous amount of communication and control. And for the last 10 years, the station has also been furthering science.

There are fascinating opportunities for scientists with the space station going forward. An awareness of this can spur on ideas of ways to do investigations in space. Just looking at the science that has already been done during the last decade of assembly is inspirational. Think about it; when building projects are being erected, they do not usually operate at the same time. Take a hospital, for instance—it does not take patients while under construction. When you sit back and look at how much research was done while the station was under construction, it is pretty amazing.

Astronaut Sunita L. Williams, Expedition 15 flight engineer, performs one of
multiple tests of the Capillary Flow Experiment (CFE) investigation in the
Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. CFE observes the flow
of fluid, in particular capillary phenomena, in microgravity.
(NASA Image ISS015E05039)

Compared to other laboratories, being in such a harsh environment adds some unique challenges. It also requires a lot to take care of it. When a toilet brakes, when the oxygen generation system does not work, when a solar array does not supply power, the crew are the only six people who can and have to go out and fix things. Control systems have to be maintained and this reduces the amount of science we can get done, compared to six people in a friendly environment here on Earth.

One of the main differences between the space station and other laboratories is that most labs work on only one experiment discipline, perhaps with variables. On the station, however, you really have to multitask; there are so many different investigations that people have wanted to do for a long time: biology and biotechnology, Earth and space sciences, education, human research, physical sciences, and technology. In a given day you could be doing experiments in all of these fields, which is different from other labs.

When interfacing with primary investigators on the ground, they are the scientists and I am somewhat of a tech operator while on the station. Astronauts are the hands-on connection, and there are good and bad parts to that. Sometimes we may need coaching from the investigator, but in exchange we bring an untainted perspective. We know what to look for from training, but we may notice some phenomenon that raises questions. This interaction is known as the human in the loop and it is really necessary. For instance, I was able to make unexpected observations for the Capillary Flow Experiment during my time on the space station. It was exciting to help scientists make new discoveries! There are some experiments we can automate 24/7, but others we don’t really know if we will find something without a critical eye observation.

Astronaut Sunita L. Williams, Expedition 15 flight
engineer, works at a portable glovebox facility in the
Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station.
(NASA Image ISS015E08308)

Now that I have returned from my work on the station, I am amazed to see the results coming out. For instance, there has been some exciting progress in vaccine development and even an approach to delivering a chemotherapy drug, due to space station investigations. This research is targeted to benefit people all over the world.

We all have to be a little bit patient, however, in waiting for such findings. For instance, I flew in 2006 and it is now 2011 and we are just now starting to see these positive results. What is encouraging now is that since science experiments have been going on, they are building upon themselves and yielding results. Follow-up experiments will continue to further investigate the problems and seek answers. I think getting concrete results is the most rewarding part of working on the space station and now is the time that we should start seeing it more frequently as science experiments get done.

We have a decade to use this lab, and it is time to start investing in the work. We are going to have humans in space for the next 10 years living and working on the station. The research and technology testing will provide us enough data and information for us to smartly build the next spacecraft to take us a little bit further. We need to find out things about the human body, the atmosphere, the spacecraft and how it is surviving. We are investigating things that happen in low earth orbit, and this gives us the confidence for humans to go one step farther. So I hope this is the stepping stone and inspiration for the next generation of explorers. We have to go someplace else.

Suni Williams is a NASA astronaut with and flight engineer for the International Space Station. She launched to the station on STS-116 (December 22, 2006) as part of Expedition 14 and Expedition 15, returning to Earth with STS-117 (June 22, 2007). During her increment in space, Williams set a new record for females of 195 days in space. In today’s blog, Williams shares her thoughts and perspective as a crewmember aboard the International Space Station with the readers of A Lab Aloft.

Boiling it down to the bubbles: It is about heat transfer

This week, comments from guest blogger and International Space Station Associate Program Scientist Tara Ruttley, Ph.D., as she reflects on the physical science of boiling in space.

If you don’t think of yourself as the type of person who could ever be interested in physics, let’s boil this down.

You’re hungry. It’s pasta time. Your pot of water is on the stove, you’ve turned on the maximum heat, and the wait for boiling begins. You are staring impatiently at the pot when the water looks like it’s starting to swirl. You’re anxious to see the bubbles that signify that you can put your pasta into that water. But what do those bubbles tell you and what makes them the key indicator of perfect pasta water temperature?



On Earth, water boils via natural convection.
(Image courtesy of Markus Schweiss via Wikipedia)


To simplify a bit, boiling is actually a very efficient heat transfer process and, in this case, boiling transfers the heat from the fire on your stove to the water that will cook your pasta. It seems straight-forward enough here on Earth: you turn on the burner, wait a few minutes, and when all those small bubbles appear, you’re ready to get cooking.

As you wait for your pot of water to boil, there is a complex process going on in there. First, the liquid on the bottom of the pot closest to the heat source starts to get hot; as it does, it rises. The rising hot water is replaced by the cooler, more dense water molecules. The water molecules in your pot continually exchange in this way, thanks to gravity, eventually warming the entire pot of liquid. This is known as natural convection—the movement of molecules through fluid—which is a primary method of heat (and mass) transfer.


Without buoyancy or convection, boiling fluids
behave quite differently in space.
(Video courtesy of NASA)


But natural convection is not enough, as it does not yet provide those bubbles you need for your pasta. To get those bubbles, you have to wait long enough for the bottom of the pot to get hotter than the boiling point of the water. When the boiling point is breached, you finally begin to see the tiny bubbles of water vapor you’ve been waiting for! The bubbles rise, due to buoyancy, and then collapse as they reach the denser, relatively cooler water at the surface of the pot. This motion not only helps to move the water around more quickly (think stirring), but the bubbles themselves transfer heat energy as well. This bubble formation is called nucleate boiling; a far more effective way to transfer heat than natural convection on its own. In fact, so effective that ultimately it leads to more complex boiling called transition boiling—the highly turbulent bubble flow that indicates the water is now hot enough to cook your pasta.

In space, however, bubbles behave differently. Without gravity, the effects of buoyancy and convection are absent. The warmer water cannot rise; instead it remains near the heat source, getting hotter and hotter. Meanwhile, the remaining water further away from the heat source stays relatively cool. As the heated fluid reaches its boiling point, the bubbles do not rise to the surface. Instead, the bubbles that do form coalesce into one large bubble that sits on the heated surface. Within the bubble lies precious heat energy, trapped! The result is a seemingly inefficient or at least very different, way to transfer heat.



Image of liquid boiling on a heater array during the low gravity
 produced by NASA’s KC-135 aircraft. Blue regions indicate
regions of low heat transfer.
(Courtesy of University of Maryland)

As it turns out, there are plenty of scientists out there who are fascinated with the fact that if you boil water in space, you get one large bubble that tends to “swallow” smaller bubbles. Why the fascination? Well, beyond the gains in fundamental thermodynamics “textbook” knowledge, because boiling is such an effective heat transfer process, understanding more about this complex process can help to build more efficient cooling systems for Earth and space. For example, automotive engineers are interested in designing compact, energy-efficient systems to cool off hot car engines, based on the heat transfer mechanics of boiling.

In fact, your own refrigerator uses a coolant with a low boiling point and some associated pressure changes in order to keep your food cold inside. By transferring heat from the fridge air to the coolant to the point of boiling, heat ultimately dissipates from the bubbles and radiates out into the air in your home. In essence, although the air inside of your fridge may seem cold to you, it is actually warm enough to boil its coolant, which is the very heat transfer process responsible for keeping your food cold.

The Boiling Experiment Facility or BXF, which launched on STS-133 in February 2010, will enable scientists to perform in-depth studies of the complexities involved in bubble formation as a result of heat transfer. For instance, what roles do surface tension and evaporation play during nucleate boiling when buoyancy and convection are not in the equation? What about the variations in the properties of the heating surface? By controlling for gravity while on the International Space Station, scientists can investigate the various elements of boiling, thus potentially driving improved cooling system designs. Improved efficiency in cooling technology can lead to positive impacts on the global economy and environment; two hot topics that have much to gain from boiling in space.

Dr. Tara Ruttley is an Associate Program Scientist for the International Space Station (ISS) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. Her role in the Program Science Office consists of representing and communicating all research on the space station, and supporting recommendations to the ISS Program Manager and to NASA Headquarters, regarding research on the ISS. Prior to her role in the ISS Program Science Office, Dr. Ruttley served as the lead flight hardware engineer for the ISS Health Maintenance System, and later for the ISS Human Research Facility. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Neuroscience from the University of Texas Medical Branch. Dr. Ruttley has authored publications ranging from hardware design to neurological science, and also holds a U.S. utility patent.



Dr. Tara Ruttley
(NASA Image)

Research to Watch on the STS-133 Shuttle Launch to the International Space Station

The STS-133 shuttle flight, which launched to the International Space Station on February 24, 2011, includes 5 investigations for crewmembers to perform, delivery of 24 studies with hardware or samples, and 22 investigations with samples or data coming home on the return trip. Allow me to share with you a few of the highlights from this extensive list.

A major milestone from this flight is the final outfitting of the interior of the space station laboratory. NASA launched the last of the Express Racks on STS-133. These workhorses are bench-like structures used to support experiment equipment with power, data, and thermal sensors. The final addition of Express Rack 8 completes the furnishing of the laboratory, making way for full use of the station for research. Future National Lab users will employ about 50 percent of the space available in these racks, doing research that will benefit discovery and economic development of the nation through 2020 and beyond.

Cytokines on a Mission

This flight also includes a unique experiment that will study the very puzzling effects of spaceflight on the immune system. The Effect of Space Flight on Innate Immunity to Respiratory Viral Infections investigation looks at the impact of microgravity on the immune system by challenging it with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). These studies will help determine the biological significance of space flight-induced changes in immune responses, which astronauts experience in microgravity. NASA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are both interested in using the space station to understand the immune system for astronauts and for the health of people here on Earth.

Boiling without Buoyancy

The first premier boiling facility, the Boiling eXperiment Facility (BXF) also launched on STS-133. This equipment enables the study of boiling in space, paving the way for two new investigations to take place on station: Microheater Array Boiling Experiment (BXF-MABE) and Nucleate Pool Boiling Experiment (BXF-NPBX). The boiling process is really different in space, since the vapor phase of a boiling liquid does not rise via buoyancy. Spacecraft and Earth-based systems use boiling to efficiently remove large amounts of heat by generating vapor from liquid. For example, many power plants use this process to generate electricity. An upper limit, called the critical heat flux, exists where the heater is covered with so much vapor that liquid supply to the heater begins to decrease. The goal of BXF-MABE is to determine the critical heat flux during boiling in microgravity. This will facilitate the optimal design of cooling systems on Earth, as well as in space exploration vehicles.


Without buoyancy or convection, boiling fluids behave quite differently in space.
(Video courtesy of NASA)


The second experiment, BXF-NPBX, studies nucleate boiling, which is bubble growth from a heated surface and the subsequent detachment of the bubble to a cooler surrounding liquid. Bubbles in microgravity grow to different sizes than on Earth and can transfer energy through fluid flow. The BXF-NPBX investigation provides an understanding of the heat transfer and vapor removal processes that take place during nucleate boiling in microgravity. This knowledge is necessary for optimum design and safe operation of heat exchange equipment that uses nucleate boiling as a way to transfer heat in extreme environments, like the deep ocean for submarines and microgravity for spacecraft.

All Fired Up

Also on this flight are some great new combustion experiments. Burning and Suppression of Solids (BASS) tests the hypothesis that materials in microgravity burn as well, if not better than, the same material in normal gravity, all other conditions being identical. Structure and Liftoff In Combustion Experiment (SLICE) investigates the characteristics of flame structure, such as length and lift, using different fuels with varied levels of dilution. SLICE uses a small flow duct with an igniter and nozzle to collect data as a flame detaches from the nozzle and stabilizes at a downstream position. Combustion is dramatically different in space, as seen in the photo below. These studies aim to make spacecraft safer from fires and combustion processes more efficient in microgravity.


A flame in Earth’s gravity (left) vs. microgravity (right).
On Earth, warm air rises and cools, leading to the shape of
the orange flame. In space, there is no buoyancy, so the
flame is blue-hot and spherical.
(Image courtesy of NASA)


Not So Lost In Space

One of the more publicized technology demonstrations on STS-133 is a humanoid robot that seems like something right out of a sci-fi movie. Robonaut serves as a springboard to help evolve new robotic capabilities in space. Over the next few years, tests of this technology on the space station will demonstrate that a dexterous robot can launch and operate in a space vehicle, manipulate mechanisms in a microgravity environment, function for extended duration within the space environment, assist with tasks, and eventually interact with the crewmembers.


The current Robonaut iteration: Robonaut 2.
(Image courtesy of NASA)


I am eager to see the results from the various studies beginning, ongoing, and returning from the space station via STS-133. This is an exciting time of full utilization of our laboratory in low Earth orbit!

For a full list of experiments available on this flight, see the STS-133 Press kit or visit 


Julie A. Robinson, Ph.D.
International Space Station Program Scientist