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About this collection

When the U.S. space shuttle “Challenger” landed in 1983, a measurement problem landed with it. On board was a packet of several billion polystyrene beads, formed into nearly identical spheres during Challenger's flight. The odyssey of the little beads began in a contract between personnel of Marshall Space Flight Center and the Emulsion Polymers Institute of Lehigh University. Lehigh Professor John W. Vanderhoff headed a small group who developed a novel technique for producing beads of approximately the desired size and shape, but found that on earth gravity caused the beads to take non-spherical shapes and to vary substantially in size. NASA designed an apparatus to duplicate bead preparation in space and NBS examined and measured the beads made in the weightless environment of space. The new Standard Reference Material (SRM), the first space-produced beads to be offered for sale, was given the identification SRM 1960. [From: Responding to National Needs by James F. Schooley, p. 573-574]. The images in this collection cover the development of the beads and a press conference announcing the production of the new SRM.

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