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Researchers Explore Materials Degradation In Space

On March 22, an astronaut from the Space Shuttle Endeavor carried two small, passive experiment containers filled with various materials outside the shuttle and mounted them to the International Space Station for the sixth Materials International Space Station Experiment. The containers expose the new materials to space. After approximately one year, the samples will be retrieved and evaluated based on their reaction to atomic oxygen erosion, direct sunlight, radiation and extremes of heat and cold. (NASA photo)
by Molly Lachance
Air Force Office of Scientific Research Public
Arlington VA (AFNS) Mar 31, 2008
When Space Shuttle Endeavor launched March 11, more than 1,000 new materials were onboard to be tested as a part of the sixth Materials International Space Station Experiment, or MISSE-6. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research initiated MISSE-6 to gain a theoretical understanding of the mechanisms involved in materials degradation.

In the low-Earth-orbit environment -- 50-1,240 miles above the Earth's surface -- materials erode more quickly because they are exposed to ultraviolet rays and atomic oxygen, an elemental form of oxygen not found in Earth's atmosphere.

Results from MISSE-6 will provide a better understanding of the durability of various materials in a harsh environment. Knowing which materials truly can be used in space will have important applications in the design of future spacecraft.

MISSE-6 consists of two sample containers, much like suitcases, attached to the outside of the International Space Station that are used to test the effects of exposure to space. Each container houses small samples of hundreds of new materials.

Some of the materials selected for MISSE-6 include an extremely hard, ceramic-like material developed at the University of North Dakota; enzymes and cells encapsulated in silica prepared by UES, Inc.; and spider silk thread from Oxford University.

AFOSR and The Boeing Company assembled and installed the materials into the sample containers before sending them to NASA's Langley Research Center for tests. The Boeing Company is the prime contractor used by NASA to design, develop, integrate, test and deliver the U.S.-built elements of the International Space Station.

On March 22, an astronaut carried the sample containers outside the shuttle and mounted them to their designated locations on the ISS.

After approximately one year of exposure, another team of astronauts will retrieve the sample containers and bring the samples back to Earth. There, researchers will evaluate the materials based on their reaction to atomic oxygen erosion, direct sunlight, radiation and extremes of heat and cold. This will help them determine which materials can withstand the harsh environment of space.

"Making it unique, MISSE-6 is the first of these experiments to test biomaterials," said Lt. Col. Robert Mantz, program manager for the Mathematics, Information and Life Sciences directorate at AFOSR. "It will also focus on active experiments to include shutters, biases placed on samples and real-time data recording."

MISSE-6 also is the first of its kind to connect to space station power, allowing astronauts to respond more quickly, should the experiments encounter any problems. The work required to connect to space station power has laid the groundwork for a data link for MISSE-7.

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CEE Researchers Unravel The Secrets Of Spider Silk's Strength
Boston MA (SPX) Mar 26, 2008
The strength of a biological material like spider silk lies in the specific geometric configuration of structural proteins, which have small clusters of weak hydrogen bonds that work cooperatively to resist force and dissipate energy, researchers in Civil and Environmental Engineering have revealed.







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