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  • 1 NASA/MSFC Mail Code EM10, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL 35812, USA
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Abstract  

The Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) is a pressurized suit worn by astronauts during launch and landing phases of Space Shuttle operations. In 2008, a large tear (12.7–25.4 mm long, between the pinky and ring finger) in the ACES left-hand glove made of neoprene latex rubber was found during training for Shuttle flight STS-124. An investigation to help determine the cause(s) of the glove tear was headed by the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. Efforts at JSC to reproduce the actual glove tear pattern by cutting/tearing or rupturing were unsuccessful. Chemical and material property data from JSC such as GC-MS, FTIR, DSC, and TGA mostly showed little differences between samples from the torn and control gloves. One possible cause for the glove tear could be a wedding ring/band worn by an astronaut. Even with a smooth edge, such a ring could scratch the material and initiate the tear observed in the left-hand glove. A decision was later made by JSC to not allow the wearing of such a ring during training or actual flight. Another possible cause for the ACES glove tear is crystallinity induced by strain in the neoprene rubber over a long period of time and use. Neoprene is one among several elastomers known to be susceptible to crystallization, and such a process is accelerated with exposure of the material to cold temperatures plus strain. When the temperature is lowered below room temperature, researchers have shown that neoprene crystallization may be maintained at temperatures as high as 7.2–10 °C, with a maximum crystallization rate near −6.7 to −3.9 °C (Kell et al. J Appl Polym Sci 2(4):8–13, 1959 [<cite>1</cite>]). A convenient conditioning temperature for inducing neoprene crystallization is a typical freezer that is held near −17.8 °C. For work at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), samples were cut from several areas/locations (pinky/ring finger crotch, index finger and palm) on each of two pairs of unstrained ACES gloves for DSC and DMA thermal analysis testing. The samples were conditioned in a freezer for various times up to about 14 days. Some rectangular conditioned samples were unstrained, while most were subjected to strains up to 250% with the aid of two slotted aluminum blocks and two aluminum clamps per sample. Trends were observed to correlate DSC data (heat of fusion) and DMA data (linear CTE and stress for iso-strain testing) with (a) sample location on each glove; and (b) percent strain during conditioning. Control samples cut “as is” from each glove location were also tested by DSC and DMA.

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