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ISS experiment will help scientists work out how to keep astronauts cool in space

Humanity will, after all, experience extreme temperatures on moon and Mars.

SCIEPRO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via Getty Images

On August 4th, Northrop Grumman's 19th resupply mission for the ISS arrived on the orbiting lab, carrying not just necessities for its inhabitants, but also an experiment that could greatly benefit future human colonies outside our planet. Specifically, the mission was carrying a module with hardware that could help us understand how heating and air conditioning systems can operate in reduced gravity and in the extreme temperatures observed on the moon and Mars. Daytime temperatures near the lunar equator, for instance, reach 250 degrees Fahrenheit, which is higher than the boiling point of water. At night, temperatures reach -208 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest recorded temperature on Earth was -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit back in 1983.

The hardware was designed and built by scientists and engineers from Purdue University and NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. It will allow Purdue scientists to conduct the second part of their Flow Boiling and Condensation Experiment (FBCE), which has been collecting data aboard the ISS since 2021. They've already finished gathering data for the first part of their study that focuses on measuring the effects of reduced gravity on boiling. This part will now focus on investigating how condensation works in a reduced-gravity environment.

Issam Mudawar, the Purdue professor in charge of experiment, explained: "We have developed over a hundred years' worth of understanding of how heat and cooling systems work in Earth’s gravity, but we haven’t known how they work in weightlessness."

His team has published over 60 research papers on reduced gravity and fluid flow from the data they've collected so far, and they're in the midst of preparing more. They believe that in addition to providing the information needed to enable human colonies to live on the moon and on the red planet, their experiment could also provide the scientific understanding to enable spacecraft to travel longer distances and to refuel in orbit.