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Ross and Ross at NASA

For astronaut Jerry Ross, assembling the International Space Station required agile - and warm - fingers. Daughter (and fellow alum) Amy ross designed the gloves that made her father's hands-on work possible.

On December 6, 1998, the crew of the space shuttle Endeavour linked the orbiting Russian Zarya power station with the American-made Unity module, and the International Space Station came into being.

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Veteran astronaut Jerry Ross (BSME '70, MSME '72) did much of the assembly, venturing outside the Endeavour with crew member Jim Newman to adjust connections, add handrails, and prod a few reluctant antennae into deploying. Laboring at the seven-story-tall structure on one of his three spacewalks, Ross paused. "I've go to tell my daughter these gloves are really geat," he said.

At Johnson Space Center, Amy Ross (BSME '94, MSME '96), Jerry's daughter, relaxed, if only a bit. "Before the Endeavour launched, I told Dad that I wanted to hear glove comments," she says. "I'm the lead NASA spacesuit glove engineer. It's my responsiblity to make sure that the gloves are being designed and manufactured and fit properly for the astronauts."

Amy led the design of NASA's Phase VI gloves,which Jerry tested on the mission. "We worked right up to the end to get a good fit."

After completing the basic design, the engineers working on the Phase VI gloves took a mold of Jerry Ross's hand, got computer data from it, and started building up a model of the hand. Then patterns were made and the gloves fabricated.

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The white Phase VI gloves weigh about three pounds each and can withstand temperatures from -250 degrees F to 250 degrees F. (The fingertips contain heaters. "The problem isn't keeping the astronauts' hands cool enough, but warm enough," says Amy.)

A slick outer layer of Teflon protects against cuts and punctures from micrometeroid and orbital debris - space junk. Under the Teflon, five layers of aluminum-coated Mylar provide thermal insulation. In all, there are ten layers of material, including the comfort glove next to the astronaut's hand. Amy likens spacesuit gloves to skiing gloves or oven mitts. "There's some feel," she says, "but your tactility is degraded.

"The gloves that Dad wore are so much better than what was available before," she adds, "because they're custom-fit: there's much less room between the glove and your finger. On his third EVA (extravehicular activity, or spacewalk), Dad was supposed to wear one Phase VI glove and another old-style glove to do a side-by-side comparison, but he didn't, because he could tell the new glove was performing better than the old one."

By the end of the mission, Jerry had earned two U.S. records: one for total number of career spacewalks (seven) and one for total spacewalk time over a career (44 hours and nine minutes, 21 hours of which came from the Endeavour mission). He also tested and emergency jetpack designed to aid spacewalkers who become stranded from the space station or space shuttle.

Despite those highlights, Amy and other NASA personnel on the ground viewed the mission as routine.

"Like any shuttle mission," she says, "you want it to be good and boring. And it was."


The Dad: Jerry Ross at work during one of three spacewalks to assemble the International Space Station.
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The Daughter: Amy ross at work as a NASA intern. She joined NASA full-time in 1996.
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