A View from Katherine Bourzac
Materials Science in Space
Experiments on the International Space Station will reveal chemical phenomena masked by Earth’s gravity.
Earlier this month, researchers on the International Space Station installed a research rack dedicated to materials science. According to a press release from NASA, materials-science experiments on the space station should allow researchers to study processes that are important in the formation of alloys, ceramics, and other materials but tend to be masked by Earth’s gravity. These include the transfer of heat and mass.
Here’s a description of the instrument from NASA:
The Materials Science Research Rack is an automated facility with two different furnace inserts in which sample cartridges will be processed to temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Initially, 13 sample cartridge assemblies will be processed, each containing mixtures of metal alloys. The cartridges are placed–one at a time–inside the furnace insert for processing. Once a cartridge is in place, the experiment can be run by automatic command or conducted via telemetry commands from the ground. Processed samples will be returned to Earth for evaluation and comparison of their properties to samples similarly processed on the ground.