Yesterday the Air Force hush-hush X-37B space plane successfully launched from Cape Canaveral.
NASA is also taking advantage of this X-37B flight to test how almost 100 materials react to the harsh conditions of space, like the barrage of radiation and swings of temperature the craft will experience while passing between the day and night sides of the Earth for at least 200 days.
“It’s just sitting there and letting the environment hit it,” said Miria Finckenor, a materials engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. She is the principal investigator for the experiment, which is housed in the space plane’s cargo bay.
The materials to be tested include thermal coatings to keep spacecraft components within a certain range of temperatures, clear materials under consideration for lighter windows on NASA’s Orion crew capsule and ink to make sure that markings on parts do not fade away.
NASA previously tested more than 4,000 samples outside the International Space Station, but it is difficult to carve out time during spacewalks to set up and retrieve the experiments. “This opportunity presented itself, and we just needed to take advantage of it,” Ms. Finckenor said.
I’m just a simple grunt. Would you believe that I actually know three, count ‘em, three honest to goodness rocket scientists?