NASA reported that five of eight liquids in a viscosity measurement experiment co-designed by a University of Tennessee Space Institute professor performed well on the International Space Station earlier this month.
UTSI Professor Basil N. Antar was tickled that one of his graduate students was permitted to join him in the Telescience Center (TSC) at Marshall Space Flight Center at 3:45 a.m. on July 12 to participate in the first UT experiment to be performed on the Space Station.
Daniel Lehman, Antar’s master’s degree candidate enthused: “This was an amazing experience. I got to meet several NASA scientists and watch live operations aboard the station as we directed the astronaut on how to perform our experiment.”
However, Dr. Antar, one of the designers of the experiment, was most excited about the enthusiasm shown by American Astronaut Mike Fincke who, as he conducted the Fluid Merging Viscosity Measurement (FMVM) experiment, exclaimed: “Gee, this is nice. For the first time, I get to do science. I could skip lunch and continue with this.”
“He was so involved,” Antar said. “He insisted that we have access to live video so we could have a clear view of the experiment as it happened, and we were given copies of the video.”
Fincke also managed to squeeze in extra time on the project the next day.
The three-hour low-gravity space flight experiment – one of two dealing with viscosity measurement – was designed by Antar, Dr. Edwin Ethridge with Marshall Center, and Dr. William Kaukler, University of Alabama at Huntsville as a container-less process.
“We are developing one more technique for measuring the viscosity of liquids,” Antar said. “This is a proof of concept test of the theoretical code that I developed.” Antar and his colleagues will analyze the data and photographs and determine the accuracy of his theory.
Fincke, one of two men on the space station since April, is flight engineer and Russia’s Gennady Padalka is commander. In the experiment, Fincke used a syringe to deploy drops of different liquids on a string and allowed them to merge under the influence of the drops’ surface energy.
NASA notes that Antar and his colleagues are developing a measuring technique that will enable them to determine accurately the viscosity (thickness) of any liquid by analyzing the drop coalescence process in a microgravity environment.
Viscosity is described as a property of fluids that causes them to resist flowing because of internal friction created as the molecules move against each other. In measuring how long it takes two spheres of liquid to merge into a single spherical drop, Fincke released two drops of fluids with known viscosities such as corn syrup, glycerin, honey, and silicone oil. Digital images of the drops as they coalesced to form one drop were recorded.
Antar said glycerin did not perform well, and honey crystallized on the first try. However, the astronaut, “on his own volition,” found time the next day to heat the honey and try it again and got results, the professor said.
Lehman, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, said, “It was a very fulfilling experience that I was glad to be able to take part of. I look forward to pursuing my career and hope that I will be able to have more experiences like this one.”
Antar plans to see that Lehman gets to fly on NASA’s KC 135 aircraft this fall. This plane also is used for more down-to-earth low-gravity experiments.
While not in direct contact with Fincke, Lehman and his professor communicated with him through Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston. This experiment originally was scheduled for a year ago.
NASA said researchers hope data from FMVM will “provide insight into the behavior of glasses – materials that may be used to fabricate parts or equipment for long-term space missions and improve future materials processing experiments carried out in space and on Earth.”
Understanding the viscosity of fluids is important, scientists say, “for everything from designing laboratory experiments to industrial production of materials.”
Antar said that while the space station was designed as a laboratory, with only two men on board, “it takes two people full time to do the daily chores and to keep it going.” Because of this tight schedule, he was especially impressed with Fincke’s involvement in the FMVM experiment.
After their experiment was ended, Antar and Lehman joined the whole experimental group in expressing their appreciation to Fincke with this message: “Wow! Your responsiveness in performing (the experiment) was great and really aided the amount of science return that we will get from the corn syrup! Thanks for going above and beyond . . . two hundred miles above!”