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Mike's Spacesuit Diary Day 1 2 3

Day One

Iain and I are to find/extract some zeolite for use in a vacuum pump. The idea is for the Team to build a vacuum-driven water-cooling system that can be used to cool down a spacesuit. At low pressures, water will “boil” at a lower temperature than it does at atmospheric pressure. The process of boiling/evaporation should be able to cool a water supply that can be circulated round the spacesuit. The role of the zeolite is to lower the pressure in the vacuum system even more by adsorbing the evaporated (boiled) water. Zeolites are microporous materials containing lots of little cavities and channels (much like the activated charcoal and pumice in Programme 1). This porosity provides a huge surface area onto which small molecules like water can adhere.

Iain and I have two sources of zeolite – mine will be the packet of washing powder that Kate has provided in the chest. Iain will go and look for a more natural zeolite source. It should be easy enough for me to extract the zeolite from the washing powder; it is, after all, the only component of the powder that is insoluble in water. The problem is that the zeolite is so finely powdered, it won’t simply be a matter of dissolving everything else in water and filtering off what doesn’t dissolve – I’d need especially fine filter papers to do that, and I don’t have them.

One potential way round the problem would be to thoroughly shake the washing powder up in water and let what doesn’t dissolve (the zeolite) settle out overnight under the effect of gravity. Tomorrow morning I could then decant off the water above the settled solid and dry the solid outside in the heat of the day. That’s what I decide to do. Tomorrow's going to be quite an easy day … or so I think!



Ellen gets the short straw
Scientists Diaries

How did the rest of the Rough Scientists approach the spacesuit task? Find out in their diaries: