This post refers to articles from Popular Science and Gizmodo. Visit those links for more on SESL, and check out angstromengineering.com for more information on small-scale space environment simulation.
Human beings were never meant to breach the bounds of our planet’s protective shroud. But in our never-ending pursuit for military superiority, we reached beyond that atmospheric barrier and entered the void of space in 1961. Since then, humankind has made many more trips to outer space – some ending in triumph, others in tragedy.
Space is as contradictory to human survival as the depths of Earth’s oceans. In many ways, it’s actually more similar to the ocean floor than it is our planet’s atmosphere. It’s certainly colder, reaching temperatures below two hundred degrees Celsius, and it lacks the oxygen that is fundamental to sustaining just about all known forms of life.
We knew this before we went to space. There was never any delusion on the part of NASA or the USSR that the world beyond Earth’s atmosphere was hostile both to humans and human technology. But nor did we know exactly how our tech would fare in the great beyond in the dawn of the Space Race, and that was a problem.
As Andrew Tarantola wrote for Gizmodo, NASA basically made up spaceflight as it went along during those early years. No one knew precisely what it would be like up there. All researchers could do was test, hypothesize, and test again.
That’s where SESL comes in. NASA completed building the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory in 1965 as a way to test spacecraft and other space-bound technology here on Earth. And believe it or not, it worked amazingly well – so well, in fact, that it’s still used over 40 years later.
SESL consists of two test chambers. The larger chamber uses a massive fan to create a near-vacuum environment, lighting systems to simulate sunlight in space, and gaseous helium that can reach bone-chilling temperatures of 262 degrees below. The other chamber simulates the environment inside a craft as it floats in space, with enormous cranes to maneuver the equipment around.
It gets better – you don’t have to travel to Houston to see space simulation in action. On a smaller scale, there are systems like that built by Angstrom Engineering that can test how low-pressure environments impact smaller pieces of tech like solar panels. Angstrom’s vaccum chamber system has both precise pressure control and temperature control to create a miniature space testing environment.
I highly recommend you check out angstromengineering.com for more information on this awesome system.