What NOT to wear in Outer Space

A specimen tray of LDEF shown pre-orbit (left) and post-orbit (right)

NASA is preparing to launch the Materials Science Research Rack (MSRR)into space. This refrigerator-sized laboratory will depart Earth in July 2009 in order to hitch a ride on the International Space Station. It will carry sample cartridges of materials such as space polymers, semiconductor crystals, and ceramics, which will then be subjected to various experiments.

The MSRR mission is preceded by two earlier generations of space materials experiments. In 1984, the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) was sent into orbit by the space shuttle Challenger. Its 57 experiment trays, attached to a heavy cylindrical strucutre, exposed materials to the synergistic effects of space for the first time. Testing had previously been conducted in Earth-based labs, but only one or two environmental effects could be simulated at any one time. The LDEF remained in orbit for 5 years longer than originally planned, after the Challenger tragedy caused NASA to suspend space missions for some time.

The LDEF continued to orbit until it started to drift back towards Earth's atmosphere. NASA sent the space shuttle Columbia to pick up this threatening mobile materials lab in 1990. Upon its return, the samples were sent back to over 200 sources. From universities to private corporations, many labs were eager to learn about the space environment through its effects on materials.

The next step in advancing materials for use in space was the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) Grand Opening. A briefcase-like container was filled with samples and deployed on the International Space Station. The exposure lasted for one year, after which a new briefcase would be installed. There were 6 MISSE experiments in total. One of the more interesting investigations was from Siemens, who wanted to find better inks for marking spacecrafts. Because such printing inks have been developed for Earth's conditions, they aren't designed to endure the UV levels of space. Siemens is hoping to change that so that parts of spacecraft can be identified in orbit and upon return, with barcode-like markings.

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