Where NASA Tests Hardware Bound for Space

Photo courtesy of NASA. Click to enlarge.

The environment outside Earth's atmosphere is unforgiving—humans could last maybe 3 minutes in the vacuum of space before expiring. (Luckily, they'd only be conscious for about 15 seconds of that.) But space isn't just tough for humans; it's also pretty rough on the equipment astronauts use there, so everything bound for space must be vigorously tested. Vacuum Chamber 5 (VF-5), located at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, is one place where electric propulsion systems are put to the test.

Though there are many vacuum chambers at Glenn Research Center (including the world's largest), VF-5 does the best job of re-creating a space environment thanks to "the highest pumping speed of any electric propulsion test facility in the world," according to NASA.

The facility is equipped with cryogenic panels, located at the top and back of the chamber, which contain a helium-cooled panel that can reach a chilly -440 degrees Fahrenheit (absolute zero is -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit). As NASA explains, "The extreme cold of this panel freezes any air left in the chamber and quickly freezes the thruster exhaust, allowing the chamber to maintain a high vacuum environment. The outer chevrons are cooled with liquid nitrogen to shield the cryogenic panels from the room temperature surfaces of the tank." It's in these conditions that NASA then tests electric propulsion and power systems crucial to space missions, such as hall thrusters.

The super-cold conditions also help capture the xenon propellant used in the testing, which freezes to ice. NASA collects and reuses the pricey propellant.

VF-5 is currently being used to test Solar Electric Propulsion technology, which will help take future astronauts to Mars and beyond.

[h/t io9]

By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

Name the TV Titles Based on Their Antonyms


More from mental floss studios