News / Science & Technology

Endeavour's Last Flight a Big Deal to University Research Team

Space shuttle Endeavour sits on Launch Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., April 29, 2011
Space shuttle Endeavour sits on Launch Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., April 29, 2011
Kane Farabaugh

As the world watches space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission to deliver equipment and science experiments to the International Space Station, a research team from Northwestern University is following the mission with special interest. It built one of the experiments - to analyze the effects of radiation and the harsh space environment on certain materials. Many scientists and researchers are worried that the end of the space shuttle program could threaten future space-based research.

Northwestern University Material Science and Engineering Professor Mark Hersam has more than just a passing interest in the final Endeavour mission. Six small pieces of his research were on board.

"These samples are thin films of carbon-based nano-materials including carbon nano-tubes and graphite," said Hersam. "These materials are being explored in our lab to offer next-generation electronic technology and also for solar cell technology."

Hersam said the samples, delivered to the International Space Station, could help advance technology used in satellites and other equipment destined for space. "We’re interested to see if they are also stable under the harsh conditions of outer space in particular the radiation they are exposed to."

Hersam said there was great uncertainty about how, when, or even if the samples would ever get into space. But several years ago, one of Hersam’s former students, now an employee of the aerospace giant, Boeing, was able to help him secure the small amount of cargo space needed to get the samples into orbit. The next step was waiting.

"We prepared the samples over 18 months ago, and we’ve been waiting, in the queue, and as the Space Shuttle [program] is coming to an end, we were actually nervous that we may never get up there. But fortunately, we made it."

Hersam knows how his experiment got into space. But with the last-ever space shuttle flight scheduled just two months from now, he’s not sure how he’s going to get the samples back to Earth.

"There still will be most likely Russian spacecraft, which will be shuttling samples back and forth, so hopefully we will be able to catch a return flight that way, but it’s not finalized yet how that will occur," said Hersam.

Professor Peter Voorhees, Hersam’s colleague at Northwestern University, said, "The challenge isn’t so much getting them up, because you have these unmanned transport vehicles that will take things up. It’s getting the samples back. So the down mass really becomes an issue."

Vorhees has successfully completed three experiments carried aboard the space shuttle. His concern is that whatever craft eventually replaces the shuttle might not be able to carry as much cargo into orbit.

"NASA, to their credit, is extraordinarily careful about what they take up and how they pack the shuttle, but it just had so much space to start with, that there was space to transport samples up and back in a reasonably timely manner," he said.

When President Barack Obama outlined his vision for the future of the U.S. space program last April, he signaled a desire to allow private companies to develop spacecraft that will fill the void left by the retiring space shuttle program. Hersam is worried that plan could push projects like his aside.

"My concern is that the motivation behind the experiments will presumably be commercial in nature, which will be a different type of research than we are doing now. I suspect that the level of discovery and serendipity will reduce if it’s being drive by bottom-line [profit] considerations.  I’m worried that it’s not going to be as productive as it is now, where fundamental research can be performed," said Hersam.

Endeavour’s final mission into space is the 25th journey into orbit for the 22-year-old vehicle. It is expected to return to Earth on May 13, completing the penultimate mission of NASA’s 30 old Space Shuttle program.

Atlantis
is tentatively set to make the final shuttle journey into space at the end of June.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid