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Engineering for Zero Gravity

Spaceship engineer Donna Grossman worked on a number of important projects during her career, but the project that attracted her family’s keen interest was the Space Shuttle toilet, which was, in fact, a feat of zero-gravity engineering.

Ms. Grossman, a Windsor resident, explained the challenges and innovations of this and other projects during an evening talk for students and faculty in Gilchrist Auditorium on Wednesday, November 13. She also spoke about starting her career in 1977 as one of few women in the field of spaceship engineering.

An employee of Hamilton Standards, which is now United Technologies, until she retired in 2017, Ms. Grossman worked in mechanical engineering design in the Space Systems Department. NASA contracted with the company to develop a number of systems for space travel and exploration, many of which involved controlling the life-supporting environment inside spacecraft — temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels, electronic emissions, and other conditions. Her team’s work contributed to the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, the Orion spacecraft, and the spacesuit that astronauts use for spacewalks.

She explained for students the engineering of the Space Shuttle toilet to collect waste in zero gravity, a water processor for the Space Station that filters and purifies everything from waste water to sweat to urine so that it could be reused, and the environmental controls for Orion, a spacecraft still under development and testing that scientists hope will eventually take astronauts to Mars.

The students in attendance, intrigued by both the science behind her work and the day-to-day aspects of her job, asked a number of questions and stayed after the talk to converse further with Ms. Grossman.