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MICROGRAVITY RESEARCH PROGRAM NASA Glovebox Program


Science in a Box on 7 missions, a n d t h e Priroda m o d u l e of Russian Space
Station Mir, where one glovebox logged over 21 m o n t h s of
W h e n you p u t science in a box, all k i n d s of things are operation.
possible. O f course, this box is a good deal more than just an
ordinary cube. Astronauts can place their hands inside it, add Support for Better Science
and remove experiment components, and manipulate exper-
iments within it all while the box remains sealed. It's not magic, T h e ability of the glovebox to offer c o n t a i n m e n t , the
but it is a powerful research tool. This device, called a glove- opportunity to manipulate experiment components on orbit,
box, offers an enclosed work space for investigations that may shorter development time for experiments that can m a k e use
be affected by — or m a y adversely affect — a spacecraft's of its multiuser resources, and the chance to test the operation
crew or the spacecraft environment. of h a r d w a r e prior to m a k i n g costly investments has proven
valuable over the years.

C o n t a i n n n e n t — Special care is required w h e n scien-


tists wish to study certain kinds of substances. In one such
investigation, researchers wanted to use a microgravity envi-
r o n m e n t to combine t w o materials, ceramic particles and a
liquid metal, to form one n e w material that would have n e w
properties. T h e samples u n d e r investigation required the
glovebox's unique containment capabilities for t w o reasons:
to ensure that any leaks of liquid materials could be con-
tained, a n d to prevent potentially harmful materials from
affecting the crew or the spacecraft. While most liquid met-
als that microgravity scientists study are not toxic, the metal
in this investigation, biphenyl, is. W h e n toxic substances are
in use, three levels of containment are required to ensure
safety. T h e experimenter provides the first level of contain-
m e n t — in this case, the ampoule containing the t w o mate-
rials. T h e glovebox provides t w o levels of containment — its
Astronaut Shannon Lucid, Cosmonaut Yuri Usachev, and Cosmonaut Yuri
Onufrienhp, with the NASA glovebox on Russian Space Station Mir. sealed chamber and airlock system. W i t h these barriers in
place, the glovebox offers an extra m a r g i n of safety in studies
T h e glovebox has been ideal for microgravity experiments of liquids as well as materials that may be toxic if touched,
that do not require very large or specialized equipment. It has ingested, or aspirated.
also served well as a way to test science concepts and hardware
solidification
before investments a r e m a d e in t h e d e v e l o p m e n t of costly front
equipment. T h e basic glovebox design includes a central port
w i t h a n airlock for e q u i p m e n t installation a n d r e m o v a l .
E x p e r i m e n t s can be m o u n t e d to t h e floor or walls of t h e
glovebox, elevated by jacks, or held d o w n by magnetic bases
. partick
or strips. Two specially sealed openings equipped with rugged
gloves allow an astronaut conducting an experiment to p u t his
or her hands inside the sealed chamber. T h e heavy gloves can
be exchanged for surgical ones to accommodate more delicate
procedures. A large w i n d o w on top of the box allows activity
inside the chamber to be viewed by the astronaut and recorded solid portion liquid portion
by cameras. Air pressure levels inside the chamber are m a i n -
tained at lower levels than outside air pressure so that if an
accidental leak of gases occurs, air will be suctioned into the
chamber rather than leaked out of it. A special air filtering
system provides b a c k u p in case of a major failure. T h e s e As liquid metal solidified, particles dispersed in the liquid were either pushed
precautions are necessary because some glovebox experi- ahead of or engulfed by the solid material. Investigations of liquids and toxic
materials require three levels of containment for safety.
ments involve hazardous substances.

T h e first glovebox was designed by the E u r o p e a n Space M a n i p u l a t i o n — A n investigation of the effects of low
Agency (ESA) in an agreement with N A S A that allowed E S A gravity o n thermocapillary flow in fluids was aided by t h e
to use the facility o n the space shuttle with n o exchange of ability of the astronaut conducting the experiment to place
funds between the t w o agencies. T h e success of the glovebox his hands inside the glovebox and m a k e fine adjustments to
p r o g r a m is largely linked to the adaptability of the facility. the e q u i p m e n t for the experiment so that a variety of factors
T h e design has allowed the glovebox concept to be adapted to could be examined to determine their influence on experiment
both the shuttle's Spacelab m o d u l e a n d m i d d e c k area, results. E x p e r i m e n t variables included such changes as the
w h e r e gloveboxes facilitated microgravity investigations addition of heat a n d the altering of the acoustic forces that
Proof of C o n c e p t — Conducting complex science
often requires developing tools that can function very precisely.
Researchers have used the glovebox to test systems that will
allow t h e m to study the effect gravity has on b u r n i n g fuel
droplets. To conduct droplet combustion experiments,
researchers had to develop a system to dispense a droplet of
fuel of a specific size, hold it in position so that its burning
could be recorded by cameras, and develop instruments capa-
ble of measuring the size of the flame that was produced, the
fuel's b u r n rate, and total b u r n i n g time. Glovebox studies on
fiber-supported fuel droplets proved the feasibility of burn-
ing a single droplet and returning data on the results. This
research in turn m a d e it possible to pursue a m u c h m o r e
complicated p r o b l e m — burning unsupported droplets —
by providing proof that the i n s t r u m e n t s w o r k e d repeatedly
and reliably. Research on b u r n i n g fuel droplets in m i c r o -
gravity may lead to ways to decrease pollutant p r o d u c t i o n
Using the glovebox, researchers were able to pinpoint the exact amount of from combustion engines, which provide the majority of
acoustic force necessary to position a drop in low gravity without causing the the world's power.
drop to rotate or producing a mixing motion inside the fluid.

were used to position the liquid for study. Instead of only being
able to study one variable per flight, the ability to make adjust-
ments to the experiment on orbit increased the amount of data
that was gathered, thereby m a k i n g the most of the available
crew time. By studying thermocapillary flow in a low-gravity
environment, researchers are discovering ways to control the
mixing of liquid materials for a variety of applications on Earth.

M u l t i u s e r R e s o u r c e s — Glovebox designers were


t h i n k i n g about the needs of a broad range of experiments
d u r i n g its development. Built-in resources such as power,
lighting, ventilation, a n d i n s t r u m e n t s for data a n d video
collection and downlinking mean that researchers don't need
to be concerned about devising and developing these tools for
Needles (top left) dispensed a drop of methanol onto a silicon carbide fiber. Once the drop
their individual experiments, thereby cutting down on the time reached a predetermined size, it was ignited, and its burning rate and extinction diameter
it takes to prepare an experiment for flight. Experiments in were measured. Glovebox investigations helped researchers perfect the tools for dispensing
protein crystal growth have made use of the available data and and positioning a drop of fuel in low gravity.
video interface drawers and power supply for imaging the
growing protein crystals and providing the proper temperature Plans for the ISS
and humidity conditions for optimal g r o w t h . Research on NASA's success in partnering with E S A on previous
protein crystals in microgravity often yields larger and more gloveboxes has lead to the design and development of a n e w
uniform crystals than can be g r o w n on Earth. Space-grown facility, called the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG),
crystals are helping researchers gain a better understanding for investigations on the International Space Station (ISS).
of the relationship between protein structure and function in Experience gained by operating successful glovebox pro-
the h u m a n body. g r a m s on the space shuttle and Mir is proving to be valuable
for d e t e r m i n i n g the science requirements for the M S G . T h e '
n e w facility will have a larger w o r k volume, larger ports,
increased power and lighting for investigations, and
enhancements to its data and video collection, uplinking
and d o w n l i n k i n g , and remote c o m m a n d systems.

For More Information


http://microgravity, nasa.gov/Glov, html

Microgravity Research Program Office


Aided by the ability to optimize growth conditions inside the glovebox, crystals
G e o r g e C . IVIarshall S p a c e F l i g h t C e n t e r
of horse serum albumin grew large enough for structural analysis by X-ray
Huntsville, A l a b a m a
diffraction. Serum albumin regulates blood pressure and transports ions,
metabolites, and drugs. FS-1999-03-36-MSFC