Did You Know You Could Burn Water?

This entry was originally posted on August 11, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.org
Expedition 27/28 Astronaut Ron Garan (left), and crew instructor Wayne Wright, pose for a photo during a payload training session on Device for the study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization (DECLIC) in the Jake Garn Simulation and Training Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

One of the main objectives of this blog is to highlight the scientific research being conducted on board the International Space Station (ISS). Specifically, I like to highlight how the research can improve life on Earth. This past week, I had quite a bit of training on some of the experiments I will be participating in while I’m on board the ISS. This is the 3rd in a series of blog posts to explain the ISS experiments.

Device for the study of Critical Liquids and Crystallization(DECLIC): In a strange flashback to high school chemistry I vaguely remember that there’s a specific temperature, pressure and density where a liquid and its vapor become identical. When these conditions all exist, the substance is at a state known as the critical point. A supercritical fluid is any substance at a temperature and pressure above its critical point. The International Space Station, DECLIC experiment hopes to lead to a vast improvement in the understanding of how fluids behave near the critical point and further understand fluid compressibility. Water close to its critical point (around 374°C), exhibits a unique behavior that is scientifically very interesting to investigate in absence of gravity. This study will look at the transfer of heat and mass in near-critical water and measure its physical properties. A very informative (but a little goofy) video explaining how the critical point relates to DECLIC (in very easy to understand terms) is at: http://ow.ly/2o6Of

In the new environmental technology of supercritical water oxidation (the burning of water) the temperature and pressure are typically above the critical point and it is important to be able to predict the behavior of various dissolved materials. This research could enable the development of supercritical water reactors to treat waste (household waste; nuclear waste; and oil fuels) in an environmentally safe manner.

This research could lead to advancements in the field of clean technologies for producing energy and treating waste.

For more information about the DECLIC experiment please see the CNES website at: http://smsc.cnes.fr/DECLIC/index.htm

Forecasting Volcanoes & Earthquakes and Making Better Mayonnaise

This entry was originally posted on August 22, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.org

This is the 4th in a series of posts to highlight the scientific research being conducted on board the International Space Station.

With Columbus Training Team in front of the Columbus Training Facility at the European Astronaut Center near Cologne Germany

I spent the last week at the European Astronaut Center just outside the beautiful city of Cologne Germany. I have one more week here before I head to Star City Russia for more training with the Russian Space Agency. This past week, I received training on the International Space Station’s European Laboratory known as, “Columbus”. In addition to learning about the systems and equipment of the Columbus Laboratory, I also received training on two of the laboratory’s research facilities: The Fluid Science Laboratory and BioLab.

Fluid Science Laboratory – As its name suggests, this facility studies the properties of fluids. One of the experiments called GeoFlow, will take advantage of the weightless environment to improve our understanding of how fluids behave. Why do we need to do this research in space, you ask?  The weightless environment of the Space Station allows us to vastly simplify or eliminate the following processes that are involved in the study of fluids:

With European Space Agency Instructor Riccardo Bosca in the Fluid Science Laboratory Training Facility at the European Astronaut Center near Cologne Germany
  • Convection is the process where heated fluids, due to their lower density, rise and cooled fluids fall. This process doesn’t take place in the absence of gravity.
  • Hydrostatic Pressure is the pressure exerted by a fluid due to its weight. An environment where objects are weightless= no hydrostatic pressure.
  • Sedimentation is the tendency for particles in suspension to settle out of  a fluid.  In a weightless environment this process is vastly simplified and particles are much more likely to remain suspended in the fluid.
  • Stratification, or the building up of layers is also greatly simplified in an environment where gravity does not cause changes in density.

All this simplification, afforded by a weightless environment, will allow us to build better mathematical models and improve our understanding of the geophysics of the inner core of the Earth. This could lead to better methods of forecasting volcanoes and earthquakes.

Another experiment in the Fluid Science Laboratory is called FASES.  This experiment will study the characteristics of emulations. An emulsion is a mixture of two or more unblendable liquids. Emulsions in foods like mayonnaise are mixtures of oil and water. These normally do not mix and will separate if left without an emulsifier. This research can lead to improvements in food production and storage, advanced cooling fluids and a better understanding of how fluids flow.

With European Space Agency Instructors Frank Salmen (left) and Uwe Muellerschkowski (right) in the BioLab Training Facility at the European Astronaut Center near Cologne Germany

BioLab –  is a biological research facility designed to perform experiments on micro-organisms, cells, tissue cultures, small plants and small invertebrates. The major objective of these experiments is to identify the role that weightlessness plays at all levels of an organism, from single cells to complex organisms including humans.  Some of the experiments we will be doing onboard will expand our understanding of how plants grow in harsh climates and poor soil conditions. This research can lead to more effective food production in areas of the world where it’s presently very challenging to farm. Other experiments in this facility should lead to a better understanding of the human immune system with the hope that this research will lead to better methods of boosting the immune systems. Another interesting experiment will research how our biological clocks are effected by gravity, digestion and light.

Next week I will continue training on many more interesting experiments.  It really is rewarding to be a part of an international science team whose research will make life better on Planet Earth.

I suspect my airplane seat mate has not bathed in months & has likely never brushed his teeth!

This entry was originally posted on August 29, 2010 by Astronaut Ron Garan on www.FragileOasis.org
Beautiful Moon behind the Cologne Cathedral (Dom) on our last night in Cologne

My latest training trip to the European Astronaut Center near Cologne Germany is over and I am presently back in Star City Russia. These past two weeks at the European Astronaut Center have been very productive. During the second week of training, I was joined by Scott Kelly on his last trip to Germany before launching to space on October 8th.  As we boarded the airplane from Germany to Russia, Scott sent out the following “Tweet” from his @StationCDRKelly Twitter account: I suspect my airplane seat mate has not bathed in many months and has likely never brushed his teeth“.  No, he wasn’t taking about me. The picture below should explain it.

Scott Kelly’s seat mate on his last flight to Russia prior to his Soyuz launch
Scott and I were paired up for his last training because I am his back-up for the Expedition 25/26 mission to the International Space Station.  The purpose of a back-up is to be ready to launch in case something happens to the prime crew which would prevent them from flying. I will mirror all of Scott’s training and activities between now and his launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It will be very interesting to not only participate in all the final training preparations but also all the pre-launch traditions. We will be in Star City for the next 4 weeks and then we will head down to Baikonur and stay until launch.

It will be surreal to be at the place where Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space when he launched on the Vostok spacecraft on April 12th, 1961. It will be even more surreal when I launch from the same place 6-months from now on almost the exact 50th anniversary of human spaceflight. I will be sure to document all the action with pictures and blog posts.  I also promise to catch up on my posts describing the experiments we will be conducting while on board the International Space Station. It really is amazing seeing the potential for a great positive impact on the world that can come from the research being conducted on board.