July 31, 2000
Research critically needed for
manned space exploration
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. If the nation is serious about the manned exploration and development of space, then more attention must be focused now on research to study how weightlessness and reduced gravity would affect everything from power production to plumbing, says a recently published report funded by NASA.
The research is critical for the development of space-related technologies, says the report, published by the National Academy of Sciences and written by a committee of scientists and engineers appointed by the academy's National Research Council.
"There are certain scientific and engineering problems of a fundamental nature that need to be addressed before these technologies can be developed," says the committee's chairman, Raymond Viskanta, the Goss Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Purdue University. "It is recommended that this research should be done now because it will take years to develop the needed technologies."
Viskanta will discuss the report in a keynote lecture on Aug. 9, during the Fifth Microgravity Fluid Physics and Transport Phenomena Conference in Cleveland. The report was published in June. It recommends that NASA create a new research program aimed specifically at understanding the effects of low-gravity in key areas that include power generation, propulsion, fire suppression, manufacturing, construction, food production and life-support systems.
"For example, seemingly mundane components such as piping, valves and bearings will have to be adapted to the altered structural forces and loads in reduced- and variable-gravity environments," the report says.
Technologies will be needed to manufacture and repair failed parts in the microgravity of space and in the low gravity of other planets, moons and asteroids. Workers will have to build structures and operate mining and processing facilities.
"If a component fails and you need to replace it, how do you, for example, weld something together or manufacture in space?" asks Viskanta, a professor of mechanical engineering.
Other technologies will be needed for the very survival of humans in space.
"If an electrical fire starts, how do you extinguish it?" Viskanta asks. "You are going to spray something on it with a fire extinguisher, and this may affect the environment in which the astronauts are living and breathing. The particles, very fine droplets, behave differently in gravitational environments than they do in space."
The report recommends that NASA take advantage of the International Space Station as a platform on which to conduct research for technologies that will be important for the human exploration and development of space.
The 12-member committee began meeting three years ago and worked on preparing the report for more than a year, writing 30 drafts before a final version was completed.
The conference, from Aug. 9 to 11 at the Sheraton City Centre Hotel in Cleveland, is organized by NASA's Glenn Research Center and the National Center for Microgravity Research on Fluids and Combustion. The conference is sponsored by NASA's Office of Life and Microgravity Science Applications.
Source: Raymond Viskanta, (765) 494-5632, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: For a copy of the report, the media may contact Bob Ludwig at the National Academy of Sciences, (202) 334-2138, email@example.com.
Related Web sites:
NASA Fluid Physics Web page:
NASA report Microgravity Research in Support of Technologies for the Human Exploration and Development of Space and Planetary Bodies.
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