April 7, 2020

24.08.09: STS-128; A Dramatic Night-time Spaceshot!

This last week of August marks the return of the Space Shuttle to low-Earth orbit; Discovery is next up with mission STS-128 and an early morning launch on Tuesday, August 25th at 1:36 AM EDT. This should provide quite a light show to the Florida Space Coast for hundreds of miles around! During their planned 13 day mission, the crew of Discovery will deliver cargo, including the multi-purpose module Leonardo and the C.O.L.B.E.R.T. Zero -g treadmill, curiously named after a certain Comedy Central news-host. Visibility prospects for Discovery and the International Space Station (ISS) favor several low altitude morning passes for North American observers, and if your lucky, you can catch the pair in the act of docking/un-docking, which is pure magic! Discovery will also be swapping out crew members, as well as continuing a Boundary Layer Transition test on re-entry that was started on STS-119. This will be the sixth to last shuttle mission, which will also be flown by Discovery about this time next year…

The astro-term of the week is colloid. Yes, we are taking a page from chemistry this week, but it does indeed tie in! Stay with us, here…  A colloid is a suspension evenly dispersed but not dissolved in a fluid. Particle size generally ranges from 10^-9 to 10^-6 meters, and common household examples are milk or olive oil. Shine a flashlight or a laser through a colloidal liquid, and you’ll see the beam, as the particles are large enough to reflect the light, where as ordinary water molecules are not. Now heres the tie in; among the experiments the astronauts will place in the Destiny Module will be FIR, the Fluids Integrated Rack, which among other things contains an experiment that will study the effects of zero-gravity on colloidal dispersion. The concept of making ultra pure solutions in zero-g has its roots in an era even before space flight, and may one day lead to the creation of ultra fine alloys and pharmaceuticals produced in space (….ace….ace….).



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