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  • Space Facts: Aerogel

    Aerogel was first introduced in 1931 by Steven S. Kistler of the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California. The first gels were silica gels that converted alcohol to a supercritical fluid that was able to leave the substance. This created a transparent, low-density, highly porous material.

    Aerogels were first used in cosmetics and toothpaste. They were not again seen in the marketplace until the late 1970s, when the French government commissioned a study to decrease the time involved in making Aerogel.

    NASA first began using Aerogel when its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) began producing Aerogel to fly on Space Shuttle missions to collect and return samples of high-velocity cosmic dust.

    Aerogel received notoriety aboard the Stardust mission, where its primary objective was to capture cometary samples and interstellar dust. When the Stardust spacecraft encounters the Comet Wild 2, the impact velocity of the particles will be up to 6 times the speed of a rifle bullet.

    Aerogel was recognized by Guiness World Records as the solid with the lowest density. Dr. Steven Jones of JPL created a version of Aerogel that weighs only 3 milligrams per cubic centimeter.

    Fast Facts about Aerogel:

    • Composed of pure silicon dioxide
    • Is a 1000 times less dense than glass
    • Is 99.8 percent air
    • Provides 39 times more insulating than the best fiberglass insulation
    JPL scientist Peter Tsou with Aerogel from Stardust.
    Crayons sitting atop Aerogel are protected from the flame underneath.
    A 2.5 kg brick is supported by Aerogel weighing only 2 grams.
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