Nov 13, 1997

US - Russian space research results from conference this week




Meeting expands opportunities for joint space research

November 14, 1997


space station mockup
More than 200 Russian and American scientists parted company Thursday afternoon after spending four days reviewing three years of science research conducted in Russia under NASA sponsorship.

"The meeting was a great success," declared Russian Academician Vladimir Utkin, chairman of the Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) which oversees these projects. In concurrent sessions, Russian scientists, usually speaking through interpreters, described their research results and a number of proposals for work using the International Space Station.

"Our main achievement was that we experienced a desire always to strive to overcome those [interpreting] difficulties and that's why we achieved agreements that outline the final tasks of all the sessions," Utkin said. The tasks that lie ahead include building a safe, operational space station - the Russian Space Agency will provide more than a third of the International Space Station's modules, including control modules crucial to initial activities - and then "striving to put our creativity together" in using the station.

Atop that, Utkin said, the "new profession for some of you is marketing" to persuade colleagues and the public that the station is worthwhile.

In that vein, Dr. Arnauld Nicogossian, NASA associate administrator for life and microgravity sciences, said that research reviewed this week provides much of that justification.

"Our job is not finished," Nicogossian said. "We have to let the world know what we accomplished."

Among the many research projects reviewed at this week's meeting were:


Microgravity materials sciences:


TEMPUS sample, IML-2
Like the U.S., Russia is trying to come to grips with the problems of growing materials in the low-g environment of space, said Dr. Iwan Alexander of the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He said that Russian scientists are working to optimize experiments on the ground so they can maximize the returns from flight activities. "Only through a faithful representation of the ground-based experimental conditions that are not gravity related can one make a valid comparison between research gained on the ground and in space," Alexander said.  

The scientists involved in this group recommended that research focus on behavior and characteristics of molten materials under microgravity and under 1-g, that the low-g environment of space be characterized with respect to local accelerations, and that more work be done on fundamental studies of low-temperature physical phenomena.

While several of these areas are addressed in current NASA activities (such as the upcoming USMP-4 mission), Alexander noted that, "They've got a 10-year jump on us in some areas because they've been working the theoretical aspects more than we have."

Space biology and medicine:


Mir EVA, May 1997
Distance should no longer be a barrier to high quality medical care with the availability of modern communications technologies , said Dr. James Collier, director of aerospace medicine at NASA headquarters, but great care still must be taken so that the right information is communicated.

In that area, Collier said that more research is needed in human factors so that mission planners can do a better job of anticipating possible crew mistakes and preventing them. The Russian approach to preparing for space walks is of interest since cosmonauts can be ready with half an hour of prebreathing as compared to the 12 hours it takes U.S. astronauts (prebreathing is necessary to reduce nitrogen in the blood and reduce the chances of decompression sickness). Further, Russia's "Penguin" suit - used to reverse some effects of fluid shifts to the upper body - could be benefit some stroke victims.

Plasma and Solar physics:


solar-terrestrial connections image
International Space Station could serve as a base for a number of solar - terrestrial studies. In one proposal, said Dr. James Adams of the Naval Research Laboratory, a coronagraph and telescope would be placed on the station's solar arrays to provide near-continuous images of the solar corona. This would fits in with a Solar-Terrestrial Observatory concept which has been studied by Marshall for several years and fits in with the Solar Connections Roadmap outlined by NASA headquarters.

Another scientist proposed deploying a cluster of small satellites to fly in formation near the station and measure its effects on the local plasma environment. The data would be relayed through the station rather than relying on ground tracking stations.

Earth resources and remote sensing:


El Nino from TOPEX, Oct 1997
Noting that "The wind has no passport," Dr. Tim Miller, deputy director of Earth system science at NASA/Marshall (see the Global Hydrology and Research Center), said that both nations have similar concerns in understanding the environment.

"It's important that scientists from all countries be able to exchange data in order to make optimum use of their results," Miller said of the large sets of data collected by many different satellites and instruments over the years. Often these are analyzed with software which is specialized for one program or computer system.

The subcommittee recommended that STAC ask the Gore - Chernomyrdin Commission to give ocean remote sensing a higher level of importance. The subcommittee also recommended further development of bilateral programs on sensing ocean color and atmospheric chemistry, and considering joint work on Doppler wind Lidar (laser radar, an area when Marshall is working).

Space astronomy:


Copyright held by Royal Observatory, Edinburgh/Anglo-Australian Observatory
Observing the stars from space station will be difficult because the station is not optimized for the fine, stable pointing that telescopes need. However, some areas of astrophysics can live with this.


(continued from previous column) Dr. Alexander Boyarchuk, director of the Institute for Astronomy at the Russian Academy of Sciences, described the Gammascope, a wide-field gamma-ray monitor. It would comprise six pentagons (the top half of a dodecahedron) with pinholes, and an array of detectors a short distance behind. This would act as a pinhole camera to monitor the entire sky for gamma ray sources in the 0.05 to 1.0 MeV range.

Another suggestion by this subcommittee is to assemble and check out spacecraft for exploring the planets. Boyarchuk noted that the solar power arrays for electric propulsion are large and fragile; supporting them adds weight when launched. Fragile arrays could be assembled at the station, and then the spacecraft test fired, before embarking on a long planetary mission, he said.



tobacco virus crystal grown on IML-1
Marc Pusey, of the Biotechnology Branch at NASA/ Marshall Space Flight Center, said that one of the Russian researchers has developed "an elegant means of studying the polymerization process and observing the convective flows" that can alter the formation of gels used in biological research. "It went a long way toward explaining why I had trouble setting up these gels when I was a graduate student." Other researchers showed how to encapsulate cells in a gel matrix, a method that could be used with the NASA Bioreactor aboard space station, and how to produce drugs from cells grown in culture.

Space power and propulsion:


Mir's "candles" and "candle-holders," used to create breathing oxygen
Proper ventilation rather than extinguishers may be the key to fighting fires in spacecraft cabins, said Dr. Steven Cohen, propulsion director at NASA's Lewis Research Center. The Skoros combustion facility aboard Mir has shown that adjusting air flow may be more effective in stopping fires. Combustion was one of the main research areas on the Microgravity Sciences Laboratory (MSL-1) mission this summer, and made headlines when a fire broke out inside Mir.

In a different area, Cohen noted that stricter controls on how spacecraft thrusters fire can help mitigate contamination problems around the station. Because fuel and oxidizer valves usually open and close slightly out of step, a thruster typically will emit droplets of unburned fuel or oxidizer. If the thruster is aimed at the space station to slow a spacecraft that is docking, the droplets could contaminate or corrode optical or other sensitive surfaces. Better control on valves, and possibly screens on the exit nozzles to capture droplets, could reduce the problem.