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UTSI/NASA Space Station Experiment Completed

A University of Tennessee professor waited almost a year for the final segment and completion of a micro-gravity experiment that he co-designed to be conducted on the International Space Station.

As it turned out, Basil N. Antar contributed to the success of the May 25 tests by using information gained from initial tests conducted last year.

“These tests were designed and their procedure was pretty well ‘set in stone’ two years ago,” Antar said. While analyzing results of the first segment tests, Antar “discovered some things unique to the tests – something not planned.”

The experiment requires bringing two liquid drops together to merge under the minimum energy principle. Disappointed, due to unexpected difficulties with the first run, veteran Astronaut John Phillips asked Antar and his colleagues if they could change the experiment procedure.

“The astronaut’s request opened the door for me, so I changed it on the spot,” Antar said. “Rather than merging drops of equal size, I asked him to merge a large and small drop. He did this, and we got good results.”

This incident confirms the importance of telescience to successful experiments, Antar said. “Telescience provides for live interaction between the astronaut on the Space Station and the scientists on the ground,” he explained.

The experiment – UT’s first to be performed on the Space Station – is expected to confirm Antar’s theory of a new, more accurate method of measuring the thickness or viscosity of fluids. The project is a cooperative effort by Antar with Edwin Ethridge, a materials scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and experiment principal investigator, and William Kaukler of The University of Alabama at Huntsville.

They see the experiments as a proof of concept test of the theory developed by Antar as one more technique for measuring the viscosity of liquids.

Long-range expectations is that the Fluid Merging Viscosity Measurement (FMVM) experiment study will produce data to help scientists improve future processing of materials whether on Earth or in outer space. By focusing on the behavior of glasses, researchers expect to gain insight into fabricating improved fiber optics as well as parts and equipment for long-term space missions.

“Once the shuttle returns to the space station, we will get the full data tapes and be able then to analyze them fully,” said Antar. “I’ve been getting some data by downloading from the Space Station segments of the video camera recordings, but all we have is snippets.”

Four of six scheduled tests were conducted on the Space Station last July by Astronaut Mike Fincke, and the second leg of the experiment was left for Phillips, who also is a scientist, to complete.

Antar and his student Daniel Lehman, a UTSI Graduate Research Assistant, witnessed last year’s tests from the Telescience Center (TSC) at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). Lehman was visiting his family in Watertown, S.D., when Antar got word of the schedule for the final tests so did not accompany his professor to MSFC.