USU science experiments return from outer space

Two USU students traveled to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., to retrieve student projects that floated in space for the last year and a half.Josh Hodges, graduate student working on a master’s degree in physics, and Amberly Evans, undergraduate in physics and chemistry, arrived in mid October to receive and disassemble the pieces.In March 2008, space shuttle Endeavor brought the students’ projects, SUSpECS (State of Utah Space Environment and Contamination Study), to the space station, and in September, space shuttle Discovery safely returned it to Earth. The project was designed to test 168 different materials’ strength in outer space. USU’s research is a slice of a larger NASA study to find which materials will best serve to build future spacecrafts.”We put two years of work into this project prior to the (Endeavor’s) launching,” said Hodges, who has been the team coordinator for the project since spring 2006. “It was a lot of work, and watching the shuttle go up was the most rewarding part of this experience.”The projects consisted of metal plates that carried several different elements, such as gold, silver, copper, glass and quartz, Hodges said. These elements covered the front and backside of the plates, each element no larger than a dime.Evans, Hodges and the other four members of the USU team will do tests on the returned samples. About half of the samples will remain at USU, and the other half will be sent out to USU colleagues for further study.”One of the main focuses of this study is spacecraft charging,” Hodges said. “When high-energy electrons from the sun hit the spacecraft, the materials will charge up. We then monitor how the materials react, and how they change so we can better predict their behavior.”J.R. Dennison, faculty adviser of the USU team, has conducted research groups that study the effects of materials in outer space for the last 15 years.

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