NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

An experiment aboard the second U.S. Microgravity Laboratory to be flown by a space shuttle could lead to breakthroughs in medicine and revolutionary new treatments for some human hormonal ailments such as diabetes.

The experiment, called the Drop Physics Module-2, was carried into orbit by the space shuttle Columbia today (Oct. 20) on mission STS-73, and will allow scientists to continue studying the interaction of fluids by observing their behavior as free floating drops in the microgravity environment. These free floating drops will be subjected to sound waves and observed as they interact with external forces present in the free-fall, nearly zero-gravity environment of space.

Results of work with the second Drop Physics Module to be flown aboard a space shuttle are expected to benefit a wide variety of ground-based industries from pharmacology to industrial chemistry, said Project Manager David Gallagher of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Drop Physics Module first flew aboard the shuttle Columbia on mission STS-50 in 1992. During that experiment, the transition of rotating liquid drops into a "dog-bone," or two-lobed shape, was studied in detail along with the interaction between the drop and its surface.

The data from that experiment helped resolve differences between theoretical predictions and previous experiment results. Results from the upcoming mission are expected to help develop new models of interest mainly to fluid physicists. However, one experiment of the many planned during the shuttle mission may contribute to a line of medical research that uses cell transplantation to counter hormone deficiencies in humans.

Drop Physics Module Project Scientist Arvid Croonquist said the results could help scientists understand, for instance, how to encapsulate living cells which would help those suffering from diabetes.

Video and film records will be made of the oscillating and rotating drops. The records will be used to analyze the drop shapes and obtain the frequencies at which they oscillate under the influence of sound waves. The data would be compared with theoretical predictions.

Scientists will also study the interaction of two liquid drops and the effects of additives on the rates of interaction.

The heart of the Drop Physics Module-2 is the mechanical assembly, which contains the acoustic chamber in which the experiments take place and the video and film cameras. Liquids are injected into the chamber. The resulting drops are positioned and manipulated by sound waves. The Drop Physics Module is operated by an astronaut/ scientist via a special purpose computer built to control all of the module functions. Two interactive video assemblies display engineering and scientific data and permit manual operation through touch screens.

Former payload specialist Dr. Eugene Trinh, who flew with the Drop Physics Module in 1992, will monitor the data transmission using ground-based instruments at the operations center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The Drop Physics Module was built by Loral Electro-Optical Systems, Inc. The experimental work aboard the shuttle is being done under contract to NASA's Office of Life and Microgravity Science and Applications, Washington, D.C.

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