Airing the dirty laundry

Posted on 20. Apr, 2012 by in Academic Departments, Engineering Physics, Issues, Magazine, Research, Students

EMA undergraduate Lyndsey Bankers also participated in the 2011 flight. This year’s team will be testing for the best method for removing dust from spacesuits.

A team of 14 engineering mechanics and astronautics students hopes its experiment through the NASA Microgravity University program will solve one of the more vexing problems—dust—of long-term space travel. “There are two main problems with dust in space,” says Julie Mason, one of the EMA seniors leading the team. “First, if the Apollo astronauts had used their same suits for another mission, the dust being collected in the joints would have prevented the suits from working properly. Second, you don’t want to bring the dust back into the spacecraft or space habitat with you.”

As an alternative to forcing astronauts to ship their laundry back to Earth between missions, Mason and her team seek to develop ways for astronauts to clean their own spacesuits as they come inside from the surface of Mars or near-Earth objects like asteroids. Design concepts range from metal brushes to off-the-shelf cleaning supplies to electrodynamic dust shields built right into the suits themselves. “If you could have the dust shield printed on your space suit, push a button, and it would repel the dust, that would help minimize the amount of dust that makes it inside,” says Mason.

Mason and the rest of the team­—co-leader Grayson Butler, and Austin Gilbertson, Aaron Riedel, Austin Lemens, Collin Bezrouk, Joe Jaeckel, Lyndsey Bankers, Mike Lucas, Myles McDowell, Nathan Rodgers, Noah Rotter, Peter Sweeney and Sam Moffatt—will test their solutions on a simulated microgravity flight out of Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, in late April. The flight is the culmination of several months of preparation, both for the UW-Madison team and for a high school physics class from East Troy, Wisconsin, that will be testing its own experiment related to heat dispersal alongside the dust-removal tests. “NASA always emphasizes outreach, and we thought mentoring a team might be a good way to go about it,” says Mason. “What better way to get the students involved than to have them design their own experiments?”Bucky Badger head

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