The Tech - Snowy Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 32.0°F | Light Snow Fog/Mist

Discovery to carry MIT project

By Joey Marquez

MIT, in conjunction with the National Aeronautics Space Administration In-Space Technology Experiment Program (IN-STEP), will fly the first university experiment on the space shuttle Discovery this Thursday, said to Mark Barlow G of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The experiment will address unexplored questions such as what happens when fuel moves around in a tank in space and what happens when a solar panel vibrates.

The IN-STEP program, which began in 1987, allows universities, industry and the government to develop small, inexpensive flight experiments. Two other aerospace companies have flown experiments prior to this flight, Barlow said.

More that two days of the planned five-day shuttle mission will be devoted to the experiment, according to the Boston Globe.

The experiment, called the Middeck 0-gravity Dynamics Experiment, or MODE, consists of two parts: a truss, or tubelike metal framework, designed to study how large structures respond to vibrations in space, and four containers designed to study how fluids and gases behave under weightless conditions, Barlow said.

MODE will simulate vibrations that might occur in the solar power panels on the planned US space station Freedom. In the experiment shuttle astronauts will unfold the truss to allow tiny motors attached to the truss to produce vibrations. The structure will be monitored on videotape as well as through built-in electronic sensors, the Globe said.

The four cylinders, two half full with water and two half full with oil, will be mechanically shaken and monitored, the Globe continued.

Work on the experiment began five years ago, involving three MIT professors from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and more than 20 students, the Globe said.

Marthinus van Schoor G initially developed most of the hardware for the program and Barlow built models and experimented with the structural part of the program, Barlow said.

McDonnall-Douglas Space Systems Corporation donated structural flight hardware and the structure was built at a local Cambridge company.

Costs for the experiment totaled $2 million.

MIT team will go to Florida

The team of contributors, including Barlow, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Edward F. Crawley, the operation's advisor, and "a handful of UROPers," will travel to Florida for the launch of Discovery.

After the liftoff is over, Barlow, Crawley, and other members of the team will go to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to monitor and assist the astronauts with any questions they may have about the experiments.

Van Schoor, who is presently in South Africa, will fly directly to Houston when notified of the liftoff.

Barlow said, "It's great to

see everyone benefiting from a collaboration between the government, industry, and the academia."