20 years of space flames and liquids in microgravity for key equipment
In space, no one wants to deal with cleaning up liquids, flames, or other messy science experiments.
That’s why NASA sent a special facility to the International Space Station to do a deep dive into these complex topics 20 years ago. The Microgravity Science Glovebox, or MSG, celebrated its birthday on July 8.
Described as a shelf-sized “reservoir” by NASA (opens in a new tab)MSG is a sealed installation in the American Laboratory Destiny (opens in a new tab) module that allows you to carry out delicate investigations in a small space. It has two levels of containment to allow astronauts to do science on potentially harmful substances like flames, aerosols or other harmful objects, according to the agency.
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The equipment was only supposed to last 10 years, recalled Chris Butler, payload integration manager for the glove box at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Now, he added in the agency’s statement, “it has been certified through 2030.”
MSG’s results are many and varied: a Google Scholar search by Space.com shows around 1,500 scientific papers that mention MSG since its launch date in 2002. Fields that have utilized MSG’s capabilities include materials science and biotechnology, NASA noted.
In addition, the installation is a key resource for the study of combustion. Understanding fire and liquids in space is an essential safety measure for planning long-range exploration of the solar system.
For astronauts, MSG’s work is literally hands-on: crews use gloves to manipulate what they need, monitoring their progress through an acrylic window. The results and a live camera are autonomously transmitted to Earth for data analysis.
Experiments conducted within the MSG include, according to NASA (opens in a new tab), decontamination (opens in a new tab) experiments to support further life science work, including with rodents, and studies of protein clusters (opens in a new tab) that may be associated with Alzheimer’s disease. MSG even used lifeforms like roundworms (opens in a new tab) serve as model organisms of in-flight infection risk for astronauts.
The current Expedition 67 crew are working with MSG to see how well they can handling liquids with acoustics (opens in a new tab), among other investigations. Future experiments should target combustion, semiconductors and fiber optics, according to the NASA statement.
However, MSG is not the only self-contained glovebox on the ISS. Another example is the Japanese Life Sciences glove box in the Kibo module, which is optimized for bio-isolation and waste control, according to NASA Materials (opens in a new tab).
Previous gloveboxes, though smaller and less sophisticated than MSG, have flown on NASA’s Space Shuttle and the Soviet-Russian Mir space station.