Return to Sender: MISSE-6 Comes Home After More Than a Year in Space

September 3, 2009 by Lori Meggs
The MISSE-6 experiment aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

( -- It's been eight years since the first Materials International Space Station Experiment, or MISSE, arrived at the orbiting laboratory. During that time, more than 4,000 materials samples have been placed outside the space station to test how they react to the harsh environment of space.

The fourth set of test hardware in the experiment series -- MISSE-6A and 6B -- launched aboard shuttle Endeavour in March 2008. After more than a year of exposure attached to the station's exterior, several hundred materials samples are returning to Earth with the STS-128 space shuttle crew that launched on shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., Aug. 28.

During a Sept. 1 spacewalk, STS-128 astronauts Danny Olivas and Nicole Stott removed MISSE-6A and 6B from outside the European Space Agency's Columbus Laboratory.

The MISSE-6A and 6B investigators are studying more than 400 new materials that could be used in advanced reusable launch systems and advanced spacecraft systems. Those materials include silicone rubber seal materials planned for use on NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle; insulation materials for use on NASA's Altair lunar module; paints for lunar power systems; and other optical, electronic and thermal control materials designed to help protect the next generation of spacecraft.

Investigators will evaluate these samples for their reaction to direct sunlight, radiation, temperature extremes and atomic oxygen erosion. Atomic oxygen is the major component of the low-Earth orbit space environment. The findings will provide a better understanding of the durability of these materials.

The MISSE program is managed by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, and includes investigators from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.; NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio; Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; Sandia National Laboratory, N.M.; Boeing Phantom Works in Renton, Wash.; and Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, Calif. The Department of Defense Space Test Program is responsible for integration of all the MISSE passive experiment containers with the and for the launch and on-orbit operations of the experiments.

Marshall Center engineer Miria Finckenor is one of the MISSE-6A and 6B investigators studying heat shield materials that could be used on the Orion vehicle and aluminum-lithium alloys to save weight on lunar and Mars missions.

"It will be fascinating to see how these latest MISSE samples have withstood the space environment," said Finckenor. "The data from these materials will continue to help engineers and scientists improve space environment models and ground simulation testing."

Kim de Groh is one of the Glenn Research Center's MISSE investigators studying how atomic oxygen affects spacecraft surface materials. For her, it's not only about conducting valuable NASA research; it's also about inspiring the next generation of NASA scientists and engineers.

"The majority of my MISSE flight experiments engage high school girls in the investigations," said de Groh. "The students, from Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, help conduct pre-flight research, such as obtaining pre-flight mass measurements; they mount samples into special flight holders prior to launch; and they help analyze the samples once they return from space."

De Groh said the students begin working with NASA as freshmen or sophomores and continue through their high school years. "So far, these students have collectively earned more than $80,000 in scholarships from their performance at prestigious national and international science fairs," she said.

Glenn Research Center scientists also are testing seals for the Orion Advanced Docking and Berthing System. The seal forms the interface between the crew module and whatever it docks with, such as the space station or the lunar service module.

"We are hopeful the space testing of these seal materials will confirm the simulations we have already done as part of the ground testing," said Henry de Groh, a Glenn Research Center MISSE investigator. "The seal is needed to keep the air in the cabin from leaking out."

The next in the series is MISSE 7A and 7B targeted for launch on STS-129 in November. MISSE 7A and 7B will test space suit materials for use on the lunar surface and materials for the new solar arrays being designed for Orion.

Naval Research Laboratory scientist Rob Walters also noted the importance of tests on MISSE for improving the development of future satellite systems.

"MISSE-7A and 7B include solar cell experiments, an advanced camera system and particle radiation effects studies on cutting edge microprocessor technologies," said Walters. "The deployment of MISSE-7 will mark a tremendous evolution of the MISSE program from simple, passive material experiments to a complex, active experiment platform providing rapid access to space, real-time data telemetry and sample return."

Provided by JPL/NASA (news : web)

Explore further: Opening The Door To New Materials For Exploration

Related Stories

Opening The Door To New Materials For Exploration

October 7, 2005

Scientists just got their space-bound luggage back after a four-year wait. On October 3, containers filled with experimental materials that might one day be used to build the vehicles that carry humans to Mars were opened ...

Basil Orbits Earth

August 17, 2007

You'll never guess what was in Barbara Morgan's pocket when she blasted off from Kennedy Space Center last week onboard space shuttle Endeavour.

Station Spacewalkers to Install Electrical Monitor

August 1, 2006

Space Station crew members Jeff Williams and Thomas Reiter will work to avoid future shocks during a scheduled 6-hour-plus spacewalk Aug. 3. They also will have a third station crew member for the first time in more than ...

NASA Glenn to Test Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle

March 19, 2007

NASA's Glenn Research Center will conduct integrated environmental testing of the Orion crew exploration vehicle in the Space Power Facility at the center's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio.

Recommended for you

NASA telescope studies quirky comet 45P

November 22, 2017

When comet 45P zipped past Earth early in 2017, researchers observing from NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, or IRTF, in Hawai'i gave the long-time trekker a thorough astronomical checkup. The results help fill in crucial ...

Cassini image mosaic: A farewell to Saturn

November 21, 2017

In a fitting farewell to the planet that had been its home for over 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft took one last, lingering look at Saturn and its splendid rings during the final leg of its journey and snapped a series ...

Uncovering the origins of galaxies' halos

November 21, 2017

Using the Subaru Telescope atop Maunakea, researchers have identified 11 dwarf galaxies and two star-containing halos in the outer region of a large spiral galaxy 25 million light-years away from Earth. The findings, published ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.