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Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Astronaut Scott Kelly configures UC San Diego-led experiment aboard the International Space Station
Wayne Wright, Tracy Neff, Scott Kelly, Jennifer Storck, astronaut Mike Fossum and Sharon Reinke met at the Johnson Space Flight Center in December 2014 to train Kelly to use the fluids and combustion experiment hardware on the space station.
It’s not every day that researchers at UC San
Diego can enlist a NASA astronaut to tweak their experimental set-up, but when duty
calls, Scott Kelly is at the ready.
The astronaut, who returned to Earth two weeks
ago following a one-year mission aboard the International Space Station, made
crucial adjustments during his mission to an experiment led by Forman Williams,
a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of
California, San Diego. Williams’ Flame Extinguishment Experiment (FLEX) study –
one of several microgravity experiments being run on the ISS’s Destiny
Laboratory – is an effort to learn more about so-called cool-burning flames,
which could lead to the production of safer spacecraft as well as cleaner, more
efficient engines for vehicles back on earth.
Kelly spent two consecutive days configuring
test hardware to perform test points for the FLEX system. He also replaced
needles, a fiber arm, igniter tips and reservoirs in support of the
All the FLEX experiments take place in the ISS’s
Multiuser Droplet Combustion Apparatus, which can generate and ignite droplets
from different fuels in different atmospheric conditions. The chamber is
crammed with sensors and equipped with video cameras that record experiments.
It’s located inside an experimental facility called the Combustion Integrated
Rack, which is roughly the size of a 5.5-foot bookcase, weighs close to 560 lbs
and records the data for transmission back to Earth.
Researchers believe that cool flames – which
were discovered during an experiment aboard the ISS in 2014 – are the result of
elementary chemical reactions that do not have the time to develop around
burning fuel droplets on earth, where they can only exist for a very short
period of time. The FLEX study seeks to learn more about how quickly fuel
burns, the conditions required for soot to form, and how mixtures of fuels
evaporate before burning. The microgravity environment of the ISS, where there
is no buoyancy, makes it possible to provide a sufficient amount of test time
required to support the chemical process that creates cool flames. Press release from NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/feature/kelly-contributed-to-fluid-and-combustion-research