GSCC to launch project into space

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October 27 will be a monumental date that many Gadsden State students will remember forever.  The project that several instructors and three teams of engineering students have poured their heart, time and energy into will launch to the International Space Station (ISS) via an Orbital 3 rocket.  

“Electronic engineering technology instructor, Audrey Webb, has been the anchor for all of the experiments,” said Tim Green, dean of technical education and workforce development. “She and her students have worked tirelessly and constantly with NASA since 2012 perfecting this final experiment.  Our students have gotten the opportunity that many dream about and now they will get to see their project launched to the International Space Station.”

During the fall of 2012 Gadsden State was chosen to develop an experiment in collaboration with The Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.  The experiment is currently serving as a flagship program for migrating earth based short duration microgravity research flights to the International Space Station National Laboratory platform.  For the last 20 years JPL has been involved in developing life support hardware to support human exploration.  There is a need to understand and detect separate chemicals from the water supply on the ISS and for future long term space exploration.  For Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) goals, the detection of trace quantities of organics inside potable water is of primary importance for both ISS and future long-duration manned missions which will take place beyond earth’s orbit.  Under normal earth gravity trace hydrophobic organics inside water will separate, forming either layers on top or bottom of the water, depending upon their density.  Under microgravity the behavior of these hydrophobic organics (e.g. aldehydes, alkanes), especially their interaction with surfaces and under variable flow, is poorly understood.  This has dramatic implications for the design of future miniature sample handling and delivery systems for water quality monitors.  The GSCC experiment was developed to be flown on the ISS and it will test the nature of immiscible liquids/chemicals in a microgravity environment along with how they interact with each other and how they behave when introduced to several different material surfaces.  

The experiment was developed, built, and tested in partnership between the Jet Propulsion Lab and the Johnson Space Center’s Reduced Gravity Office.  The experiment consisted of two independent systems, the first system was a manual control that required crew member control and the second was fully automated.  The experiment confirmed the team’s understanding about immiscible fluid flow in a microgravity environment, yet it failed to provide conclusive data when interacting with material and fluid settlement.  The experiment was tested onboard the Zero-G Corporation’s specially modified 727 aircraft and consisted of observing the chemical behavior when flowing through a 1/4 inch tube and its final storage within a syringe reservoir chamber.

In May 2013, two students from the GSCC NASA team went to the JPL for a summer internship to work on modifying the project for the ISS.  The project was not complete and needed multiple modifications before it could be sent to the ISS.  Since then student team leader Corey Edwards has worked with Webb along with Dr. Murray Darrach, from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to perfect the experiment.  The project was sent to the JPL for the flight engineer to get the project “flight ready.”  The experiment is now fully automated.  Once the system is on the ISS an astronaut will activate the unit. Attached to the experiment is an Ardulab microprocessor that controls the complete unit. A camera that is programmed through the Ardulab will take pictures initially and for the next 30 days every 5 minutes.  

Once the experiment is complete NASA will ship the project back to Gadsden State where Webb and the students will examine the data with the JPL. 

“I can’t begin to put in words how excited we are to have this opportunity and what value this brings to our current and future students,” stated Webb.  

She and Edwards are planning to attend the launch on Oct. 27 in Wallops, Virginia. They will anxiously await the results of this life-changing experiment.  

Interim President Martha G. Lavender complimented the students and Webb. 

“This speaks volumes about the quality of instruction our students receive,” said Lavender. “The professional passion that excites and motivates our students to excel is evident in this program as well as many others at Gadsden State.  We look forward to seeing this experiment come to fruition and anticipate the opportunities of tomorrow.”

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