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NIST Astronaut's Shuttle Research Seeks Better Understanding of Combustion

Gregory T. Linteris, a 39-year-old engineer at the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, will be conducting experiments in outer space rather than in the familiar surroundings of the agency's laboratory over the next two weeks. Linteris is one of two payload specialists scheduled to lift off Friday, April 4, aboard the space shuttle Columbia's STS-83 low-gravity science mission.

Linteris will be conducting research in three areas during the 16-day, seven-member STS-83 flight. The work—among more than 25 projects in fluid physics, combustion science and materials science scheduled—will be done aboard the Microgravity Science Laboratory, a facility within the shuttle's payload bay that permits scientists to examine the effects of microgravity on specific processes and to use the near absence of gravity in orbit to perform research that cannot be done on Earth. The principal investigations to be performed by Linteris aboard STS-83 are:

  • Better Understanding of Soot Formation and Behavior: Heat emissions from soot are critical to the growth and spread of fires. Soot and associated carbon monoxide emissions are pollutants, with the latter being the primary source of fire-related fatalities. Soot as a product is important to the carbon black industry for items such as tires, black plastic and dry-cell batteries.
  • Examining How "Flame Balls" Form: These recently discovered spherical-shaped flames present a fire hazard in microgravity where mixtures of hydrogen and oxygen react differently than on Earth. This research could help develop methods for preventing and/or extinguishing these phenomena. What is learned in space also could be applied to preventing "flame balls" in hydrogen-burning internal combustion engines, mine shafts and chemical plants.
  • Investigating the Way Fuel Droplets Combust: The combustion of fuel droplets is central to the operation of furnaces (for both materials processing and home heating), to the operation of internal combustion engines, and to the hazardous nature of fires resulting from fluid sprays (such as hydraulic fluid leaks). The process by which this happens can be studied best in the microgravity of space where nearly perfect spheres can be formed.

Linteris also will be backup investigator on other STS-83 experiments.

Linteris joined NIST's Building and Fire Research Laboratory as a combustion and fire scientist in 1992. At NIST, he leads the Fire Science Division's project on advanced chemical suppressants, investigating replacements for banned ozone-depleting chemicals used to extinguish fires. He also is co-principal investigator on a NIST/NASA/MIT microgravity combustion experiment looking into the orbital use of such suppressants.

NASA chose Linteris as a shuttle payload specialist in January 1996.

"Greg will return to NIST after his space flight with unique experience and insight into fire and combustion," said William L. Grosshandler, leader of the Fire Science Division's fire sensing and extinguishment group. "His microgravity expertise will be invaluable in our research programs to help the fire protection community develop the next generation of fire suppression agents and technologies to protect people and facilities on Earth."

A native of Demarest, N.J., Linteris earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1979, a Masters of Science degree from the design division of the mechanical engineering department at Stanford University in 1984, and a doctorate in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University in 1990. Linteris was on the research staff at the University of California, San Diego, from 1990 to 1992, where he performed analytical and numerical studies of the chemistry important to solid rocket propellants.

Linteris' flight aboard Columbia is not the first NIST presence in space. In February 1996, the same shuttle carried aloft a NIST experiment to learn how to keep a spark from growing into a life- and property-threatening fire aboard a spacecraft. BFRL engineer Takashi Kashiwagi was the principal ground researcher for that project.

A non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.

Released April 2, 1997, Updated November 27, 2017