During Wednesday’s final planned spacewalk of the Shuttle Discovery mission, two NASA astronauts successfully tested an infrared camera developed by a team of researchers that includes a Tarentum native.
Mike Gazarik, a 1983 Highlands High School graduate, was at Mission Control in Houston on Wednesday morning while astronauts Piers Sellers and Michael Fossum tested the device on a portion of the shuttle’s wings, International Space Station equipment and samples of damaged shuttle material.
“We got the data back (Thursday) morning, and it all looks very good,” Gazarik said during a phone interview.
Gazarik, 40, is part of a team at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., that designed an infrared camera capable of detecting subsurface damage to the leading edges of the shuttle’s wings.
“The camera lens cover came off about 8:07 a.m. (EST), and the camera was in use for about 25 minutes,” Gazarik said.
During the test, the astronauts were able to collect about five minutes of video footage and still images.
Gazarik said the astronauts also had fun with the device. Sellers used the camera to take footage of Fossum crawling along the space station.
The camera worked as planned, Gazarik said, and the astronauts found the device easy to use.
“(Sellers) said, ‘It works like a champ — just as advertised,'” Gazarik said.
“We didn’t find a single problem (with the shuttle),” Gazarik added, “but that was not the intent of the demonstration.”
NASA didn’t use the handheld camera as a primary method for detecting shuttle damage. Wednesday’s test was meant only to determine if the camera would work in space.
There are two lasers and a digital camera onboard the shuttle that NASA uses as its primary tools for detecting damage.
Gazarik said that NASA directed his team to construct the camera as an additional safety measure after the Shuttle Columbia disaster. He hopes the camera becomes standard equipment on the shuttle.
“I think the intent would be for this tool to be used,” Gazarik said. “It could be left on board for the crew. If they detect damage, it could be used for a focused inspection.”
The camera used on Wednesday is being left at the space station.
Discovery is scheduled to return Monday at 9:07 a.m., NASA spokesman Chris Rink said.
Meantime, Gazarik has been working on another project for future missions: a precision-landing system for the planned return to the moon in 2018.