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Space Stationglovebox ready for scientists to start designing experiments

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Space station glovebox ready
for scientists to start designing experiments

Sept. 14, 1999: A versatile experiment facility for the International Space Station moved closer to flight recently with delivery of the ground-test model to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Right: Mary Etta Wright, the MSG Integration and Test Engineer at NASA/Marshall's Microgravity Development Laboratory, demonstrates the roomy interior of the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Links to 1024x673-pixel, 160KB JPG. Credit: NASA/Marshall

The Microgravity Science Glovebox Ground Unit - delivered to NASA/Marshall's Microgravity Development Laboratory - will be used to test hardware and procedures for the flight model of the glovebox aboard the ISS's U.S. Laboratory Module, Destiny.

Many of the microgravity experiments planned for ISS got their start - or an important boost - from early work in the Middeck Glovebox (MGBX), a tiny enclosure carried aboard the Space Shuttle and Mir. In the glovebox, astronauts were able to conduct experiments that are highly promising, but don't quite warrant a full-fledged facility of their own. They still need the personal touch.

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A version of the Middeck Glovebox is planned for use aboard ISS. But starting next summer, experimenters will be able to use a larger, more capable MSG.

"It's going to be a little like pulling up to one of the workbenches in the laboratory here," said Charlie Baugher the MSG project scientist. "It'll have everything but the kitchen sink."

Left: Illuminated by interior lights, the MSG Ground Unit looks like a juke box lacking its records. Fluid and electrical connectors are on the rear bulkhead. Circles are openings for gloved arms and for inserting new equipment. Links to 1280x1024-pixel, 197K JPG. Credit: ESA.

Services provided by the new glovebox will include electrical power, air conditioning (to clean the air and cool equipment), pressurized nitrogen, a vacuum vent, color video, connections to the space station's own network and - through communications satellites and the Internet - to scientists at universities and government labs.

And lots of room.

Scientists using the Middeck Glovebox had to cram experiments into containers about the size of a lunch pail, and then astronauts had to conduct the experiments in a volume just a little bigger than the lunch box. The new glovebox - with a large pull-out enclosure - will have openings 40 cm (16 in) wide to accommodate experiments as large as a carry-on bag, and more than enough room for astronauts to work around the apparatus.

Right: Dr. Roger Crouch does some detail work before conducting and experiment in the Middeck Glovebox (actually installed here in the lab module) during the Microgravity Sciences Lab 1 mission in 1997. The MGBX from Shuttle would easily fit inside the new MSG for space station. Credit: NASA.

"The beauty of the MSG is that it is so much more powerful than the original gloveboxes that scientists used and so more complete science can be done," said Dr. Don Gillies, the materials science discipline scientist.

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"We are very excited about receiving the first Space Station facility, " said Bob Johnson, a manager at the Microgravity Development Laboratory. "Investigators will be able to bring in their experiment hardware, install it in the glovebox in our laboratory and make sure their experiment will work inside the glovebox aboard the Space Station."

The MSG aboard Space Station will support experiments in all five microgravity fields: biotechnology, combustion science, fluid physics, fundamental physics, and materials science. Gloveboxes are especially useful when chemicals, fluids and burning or molten samples need to be contained.

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Recent experiments that have used the Middeck Glovebox include:
ELF dances in space - Flame experiment will benefit engines, fireplaces
Putting a little PEP in metals and roads - a good freeze front can better materials
Finding a recipe for new alloys - understanding how metals mix - or don't - can help make better materials on Earth
Science in a box - hands-on work in MSL-1
Micro-fireballs Lighting the Way to Better Engine Designs
Like the Middeck Glovebox flown on the Shuttle, crewmembers insert their hands in gloves attached to the facility doors. Using the gloves, they can manipulate samples contained inside the sealed experiment chamber.

As the experiment is conducted in space, the crew can see inside the glovebox. A video display also shows glovebox experiments, and the crew can scrutinize samples with a microscope attached to the inside of the glovebox. Video is sent from the Space Station to scientists on Earth so that they can observe their experiments as they take place in orbit.

Right: The view as an experiment will see it from inside the MSG.. Links to 1024x1280-pixel, 150K JPG. Credit: ESA.

The much larger MSG will occupy a double floor-to-ceiling International Standard Payload Rack. This more sophisticated glovebox holds larger experiments, and investigators can control their experiments from the ground. The glovebox also has a new video system and a coldplate that can be used to cool hot furnaces and other samples. It supplies vacuum, venting and gaseous nitrogen, as well as increased power, to experiments.

An early experiment is the g-LIMIT (GLovebox Integrated Microgravity Isolation Technology) that will use a sophisticated electromagnetic levitation system to isolate the most vibration-sensitive experiments from the normal vibrations of ISS. After it has been proven, it will be available for use by other payloads

Examples of Early MSG experiments
  • Understanding Pore Formation and Mobility During Controlled Directional Solidification in a Microgravity Environment.
  • Solidification Using a Baffle in Sealed Ampoules
The European Space Agency delivered the MSG Ground Unit to the Marshall Center and is responsible for providing the Flight Unit for ISS. They also will provide an additional MSG Engineering Unit for ground control experiments at Marshall's Microgravity Development Laboratory. This twin of the actual flight hardware will aid researchers before and during actual missions to the Space Station.

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More Space Science Headlines - NASA research on the web

Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications information from NASA HQ on science in space

Microgravity Research Programs Office headquartered at Marshall Space Flight Center

Microgravity News online version of NASA's latest in Microgravity advancements, published quarterly.


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Dr. John M. Horack , Director of Science Communications
Author: Dave Dooling
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