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June 23, 1997
Steve Roy Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL (Phone: 205/544-0034) RELEASE: 97-140 SHUTTLE MISSION REFLIGHT IN QUEST OF SCIENTIFIC MYSTERIES Searching to solve Earth-bound scientific mysteries in space, teams of researchers are taking NASA's Microgravity Science Laboratory back into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, targeted for launch on July 1. This Shuttle mission will be a reflight of NASA's Microgravity Science Laboratory-1, dedicated to 33 experiments concentrated in the areas of combustion science, protein crystals and study of the properties of metals and alloys important to many industrial processes. In April, the previous flight of the Microgravity Science Laboratory was cut short after four days because of a faulty fuel cell. The astronaut team and investigators at Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, were only able to begin their schedule of experiments, which had been planned for 16 days. "Those four days allowed our science team to barely open the door to tantalizing scientific research," said Joel Kearns, manager of NASAÕs Microgravity Research Program Office at Marshall. "We were able to verify that we are headed in the right direction. But we were not able to reach our destination because of the shortened mission." Kearns, nevertheless, cited important accomplishments during the abbreviated April mission. He said researchers tested their experiment hardware under flight conditions and it performed "extraordinarily." NASA and commercial research teams also acquired their first glimpses of some "never-before-seen phenomena," said Kearns. The first observations of free-floating flame balls during the April flight were described by Dr. Paul Ronney of the
University of Southern California in Los Angeles as "successful beyond my wildest dreams." His experiment, called the Structure of Flame Balls at Low Lewis-number, is designed to increase understanding of the characteristics of fuels and fires. Dr. Gerard Faeth of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor said that during the four-day flight, scientists got their first glimpse of the concentration and structure of soot from a fire burning in near-weightless conditions. The initial findings were an important step forward in understanding combustion and soot formation, he said. Like the flame ball experiment, this investigation could lead to improvements in fuel efficiency for all types of burning processes -- from car and jet engines to heating and cooking appliances. "The success weÕve glimpsed from the shortened Shuttle mission in April makes it clear that weÕre heading in the right direction," said Kearns. "All activated research apparatus functioned in an outstanding manner. This upcoming mission has the potential to add considerably to our basic scientific knowledge and our quality of life here on Earth," Kearns pointed out. -end-