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NASA to Conduct Six Experiments in Outer Space
August 20, 2009

For the first time in more than eight years, NASA is able to conduct scientific testing and studies in Outer space. On August 25th, 2009, NASA will take six experiments, two from the US and four from Europe, into the science laboratory aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.

The two US experiments are aimed at studying the way in which single-crystal castings solidify on earth vs. in space. Single-crystal castings are critical components in high-temperature gas-turbine engines that are used in high-speed aircraft and land-based power turbines. On earth, convection, which is the transfer of heat by movement, is always present. Due to this natural convection, single-crystal castings often become deformed. Therefore, when they are incorporated into the construction of an object, such as an airplane blade, the object is rendered useless by the assembling engineer.

In space, there is less convection. Therefore, the researchers want to see if, and how, single-crystal castings solidify differently in space. They are hoping that once in space, the single-crystal castings will solidify without the deformities they’re prone to on earth. If this is the case, then it would help eliminate error and defects in the formations of the castings, reduce the number of blades that are rejected from high-speed aircrafts and land-based power turbines, and ultimately chance the processing behavior in the industry.

Professor Surrendra Tewari from Cleveland State University is responsible for the US-based experiments, while Professor David R. Poirier and Professor Robert Erdmann, both from the University of Arizona are in charge of the modeling. Dr. Frank R. Szofran, from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center is the Project Manager. Professor Tewari and Professor Poirier have worked together on several NASA-sponsored research programs since the early nineties.

As part of a collaborative research program with the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA is launching its first Materials Science Research Rack (MSRR-1) to be integrated into the US Laboratory Module Destiny, which will carry the ESA-Materials Science Laboratory Low Gradient Furnace (MSL-LGF) for future low gravity materials science experiments by the astronauts. Each alloy sample to be processed in the MSL-LGF is contained in a Specimen Cartridge Assembly (SCA), which makes it safe and convenient for the astronauts to carry out the space experiments.

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