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Submitted by Arthur - N1ORC

Samples of the Future
Credit: The crew of the International Space Station, NASA

Explanation: Many years from now, space travelers will zip around the
solar system in extraordinary spaceships. Meteoroids? No problem.
Punctures in the hull will heal themselves. Radiation? Astronauts will
be shielded from the most powerful cosmic rays. Low on fuel? Impossible.
The craft will be propeled by inexhaustible sunlight pressing against a
lightweight solar sail--kilometers wide yet only a few molecules thick.

How do you make such a super-spaceship? The first step is to find the
right building materials. That's the goal of MISSE (pronounced "Missy"),
short for the Materials International Space Station Experiment. Pictured
above, MISSE consists of two suitcase-like containers filled with
hundreds of advanced materials. The suitcases are opened and mounted
outside the space station's Quest airlock where the samples are exposed
to the ravages of space.

MISSE was delivered to the ISS in late 2001 and "it's doing great," says
Bill Kinard of NASA's Langley Research Center. "Frequent crew
photographs show that most of our test specimens are not being adversely
affected by the space environment, just as we hoped. A few samples have
been physically damaged--perhaps from meteoroid or man-made debris
impacts, atomic oxygen erosion, or even rocket blasts from docking
spacecraft. We'll find out more when they are retrieved by astronauts
during a future spacewalk."

A new batch of MISSE samples is ready for launch when the space shuttle
returns to flight. "They'll replace the samples that are on the ISS
now," says Kinard. Among the new samples will be some stowaways:
"approximately 4 million Basil seeds that we plan to distribute to
students for science projects on the effects of the space exposure," he
explains. It's a little something extra for the future passengers of
those super-spaceships.

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