CLEVELAND. – 13 July 11
USRP Intern Intrigued by Aerosol's Role in Long-Duration Space Flight
By: Heather L. Ogletree
Dust is a killer, a computer killer that is. Just like humans, computer systems need to breathe, so when dust infiltrates computer systems, it causes them to suffocate, overheat, and die. This is a common problem that is faced by those who live in desert-like environments, and a problem for NASA.
Lunar and planetary exploration takes a toll on the rovers, landers, and habitats, not to mention the astronauts on board over time. Therefore, taking in the paramount importance of astronaut health along with computer durability, several filtration systems are currently being investigated at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland to determine which will work best for a long-duration exploration mission. This spring, Kyle Berkowitz was given the opportunity to take part in the “Vehicle Filtration Development” project at Glenn through the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP).
Berkowitz said, “Every 5-year-old wants to be an astronaut. It was only when I was in high school and mostly after I got into college that I learned that NASA does things other than launch space shuttles.” Although his project does have to do with space exploration, it definitely also falls under this category of “other things.”
A big part of Berkowitz’s project required him to test aerosol filters using different apparatuses. However, at one point, he and his NASA Mentor Juan Agui had some difficulty operating one apparatus that had previously only been used to conduct air filtration tests in reduced gravity. “I began to conduct identical filter efficiency tests at full Earth gravity for contrast and comparison, but the results I found were very obviously incorrect. It was difficult for my mentor and [me] to ascertain the problems and modify the apparatus so that it would work,” explained Berkowitz. “Fortunately, we were creative enough to get the apparatus running correctly.”
In school, Berkowitz studied fluid mechanics. This helped him develop an assessment of the aerosol filters and quality of the tests; however, he described the field of aerosols as “a completely different animal,” albeit an “interesting” one.
When asked about the impact of his project, Berkowitz replied, “In order for technology to last the longest possible and for human health to be preserved, dust mitigation technology that is effective and energy efficient will need to be utilized. My research might eventually help a NASA mission last a month or several years longer before technological failure caused by dust.” Berkowitz also made sure to stress the critical nature of astronaut health to mission success. He emphasized, “Breathing in fine dust for long periods of time is bad for human health. If you're looking to stay on the moon for a long period of time, it would be risky without proper air filtration.” Agui agrees; he likened the experience of living on the moon without proper filtration to living on a bed of talcum or toner powder.
Although Berkowitz is a little unsure of where the future may lead, he does know that he is hooked on science, and is contemplating continuing to graduate school, finding a job in the STEM industry, becoming a researcher, or even giving back to the STEM community by becoming a math or science teacher. As for his advice to future USRP interns, he offered, “If you don’t know something, learn. Don’t leave wondering if you made the most out of the opportunity. You should leave knowing that you gained something other than an awesome section on your resume.”