NASA astronaut Don Pettit shares stories of space at Portland State University seminar

What happens when you play with candy corn in microgravity or try to sip coffee aboard the International Space Station?

These are all things that NASA astronaut Don Pettit explored on the ISS while partnering with Portland State University researchers on the behavior of fluids in the station’s microgravity environment — or as PSU staff called it in a press release, producing “some of the funnest nerd microgravity fluidics things done in space.”

NASA astronaut Don Pettit is all suited up in this photo, provided by Portland State University.

NASA astronaut Don Pettit is all suited up in this photo, provided by Portland State University.

On a more down-to-earth level, Pettit will take part in an Oct. 9 seminar presented by PSU’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering (or MME) Department. The event will run from 11:30 a.m. to 12:35 p.m. in Room 102, University Point, 1955 S.W. Fifth Ave, Portland.

Beyond having fun with fluidics, Pettit — who grew up in Silverton and is an Oregon State University alumnus — has logged more than a year’s worth of time (370 cumulative days) on space missions, done 13 hours of spacewalks, and created a couple of handy items for life and work in space.

First, he constructed a barn door tracker aboard the ISS. It’s a camera mount that cancels out Earth’s diurnal motion, allowing for the capture of sharper high-resolution images of the planet, especially nighttime shots of city lights from the orbiting station.

More recently, he worked with a PSU team on a 3-D printed drinking cup that exploits capillary forces (see first item after “In other science news” at that link) to allow astronauts in microgravity to sip coffee like they would on Earth. The cups are now aboard the ISS.

For the seminar, Pettit will present “Techno-Stories from Space.” Here’s how PSU and Pettit are teasing his talk: “Frontiers are interesting places; they offer the possibility to make observations outside our normal range of experience.  The International Space Station is such a frontier offering a local reduction in acceleration forces by nearly a factor of a million. This allows the observation of subtle phenomena that are typically masked on Earth.  This orbital vantage also allows observation of Earth phenomena on the length scale of half a continent.  A smattering of my observations will be presented. There will be many questions and few answers, which of course is a characteristic of being on a frontier and why we venture there.”

For more information on the seminar, contact PSU’s Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science or the college’s MME Department.

To see some of the fun Pettit had in space, check out the videos embedded below.

Susannah L. Bodman
Twitter: @Sciwhat
Facebook: Sciwhat.Science

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