Alumna’s Experiment Heading to the International Space Station

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A former Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration Stockpile Stewardship Graduate Fellowship (DOE NNSA SSGF) recipient heads a NASA team that’s placing an experiment aboard the International Space Station.

Kristen John, a fellow from 2009 to 2013, studies regolith, the dusty debris covering asteroids and moons that was created by meteor impacts and other forces. “We need to study this material to understand how it’s going to affect our spacecraft that interact with the surface of asteroids, or the joints of spacesuits worn by astronauts one day exploring them,” John said in a NASA article.

The experiment, called Hermes, is aboard a SpaceX resupply rocket that launched on May 4. The package is designed to connect to the station’s existing systems so researchers can monitor and control it from the ground. Hermes also can be easily adapted to many types of experiments, the article said, with interchangeable cassettes.

The first experiment includes four clear, 10-inch plastic tubes containing materials meant to simulate regolith. Three hold different-sized silica glass particles. The fourth tube has a meteorite simulant blend of variously sized particles.

John and her team will monitor how the particles respond to long-duration exposure to microgravity and to changes in pressure and temperature, shocks from impacts, and other forces. Once the regolith experiments are complete, astronauts will remove the cassette from Hermes for return to Earth. They’ll replace it with a new cassette of different experiments.

John earned her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 2014.