Materials scientists have banner week on International Space

by Marshall Space Flight Center

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Engines for airplanes and rockets — and fuels to power them — will benefit from the materials and processes studied on the International Space Station this week. A 15-day research program that processed zeolite crystals was completed. Zeolites could be tailor-made to store new fuels that replace petroleum. Another experiment processed samples to study how bubbles form defects in metal alloy parts cast to make turbine blades for engines. Both experiments are managed by the Marshall Center.

The crew of Expedition Five successfully completed a 15-day research program with the Zeolite Crystal Growth (ZCG) experiment in the past week and conducted an additional experiment with the Pore Formation and Mobility Experiment (PFMI).

ZCG, located in EXPRESS Rack 2 in the Destiny laboratory module, completed its run on Sunday. The furnace was deactivated Monday, and NASA Space Station Science Officer Peggy Whitson removed the samples on Tuesday.

Zeolite crystals form the backbone of the chemical processes industry, including the production of virtually all the world’s gasoline. In space, commercial researchers are trying to produce larger, more perfect crystals for study. Other potential uses for zeolite crystals include carbonless printing and production of wires that transmit light instead of electricity for next-generation electronic devices.

This experiment is one of several commercial investigations being sponsored by industry. These commercial studies are completed by companies that work with one of NASA’s 15 Commercial Space Centers managed by the Space Product Development Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. On Sunday, Whitson and the ground science team began an unscheduled seventh run of the PFMI experiment that was completed early Monday. Only six PFMI tests runs were scheduled during Expedition Five.

Inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox, PFMI melts and re-solidifies samples of a transparent modeling material. Through a video system, scientists who are working in a telescience center at the Marshall Center can observe how bubbles form in the samples and study their movement. Bubbles that become trapped in metals or crystals can form defects that decrease the material’s strength and usefulness. Scientists hope to gain insights that will improve solidification processing in a microgravity environment and similar processes on Earth.

Next Sunday, Expedition Five Commander Valery Korzun and Whitson will conduct the Pulmonary Function in Flight (PuFF) experiment. The PuFF session includes five lung function tests for each crewmember. The focus is on measuring changes in the evenness of gas exchange in the lungs and on detecting changes in respiratory muscle strength caused by long periods in the absence of gravity. The results will help in maintaining crew health during long space missions. This is one of many human life sciences experiments being conducted on Expedition Five under the auspices of the Life Sciences program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

On Tuesday, selected members of the crew filled out the weekly Crew Interactions computer survey on a laptop computer. The study identifies important interpersonal and cultural factors that could affect performance during long space missions.

On Wednesday, the crew collected background radiation dosimeter badge readings on the EVA Radiation Monitoring (EVARM) experiment in preparation for spacewalks during the STS-113 Shuttle mission set for launch on Nov. 11. EVARM is the first radiation experiment to measure radiation dosages encountered by the eyes, internal organs and skin during specific spacewalks and relate it to the type of activity, location and other factors. Analysis of this information may help reduce potential exposure to spacewalkers in the future.

Crew Earth Observation photography subjects for this week included air quality over the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, sediment plumes in the Mekong River delta following heavy rains last week, and the sediment plume of the Amazon River as it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

During the past week, the crew continued to perform daily maintenance and status checks on Station experiments. They also prepared the Station lab for the arrival of a Soyuz taxi ship this week and approximately eight days of European science experiments to be conducted in the Microgravity Science Glovebox.

Editor’s Note: The Payload Operations Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages all science research experiment operations aboard the International Space Station. The center is also home for coordination of the mission-planning work of a variety of international sources, all science payload deliveries and retrieval, and payload training and payload safety programs for the Station crew and all ground personnel.