One of the world’s flattest floors helps design the future of space exploration

HUNTSVILLE Ala. -- Take a look at the floor you're standing or sitting on right now. Sure it's flat, but not all floors are created equal.

In fact, NASA has one of the flattest floors in the world, right in our own backyard at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center on Redstone Arsenal.

There are many facilities for technology and science on the Arsenal, and this extremely flat floor can lead to the future of space exploration.

Step onto NASA's flat floor laboratory and it's the next best thing to floating outer space.

"I can move 4,000 pounds with just my pinky, and I'm no weightlifter," said Tom Bryan, the Senior Engineer at Marshall's Flat Floor Facility.

The flat floor facilities at Marshall have been around since the late 60s. They're currently on the fourth version.

The floor is 86 by 44 feet. It was poured that big to fit space station modules on it to practice putting them together. The floor has stayed flat for around 30 years.

"We have tested and trained astronauts using this concept for decades, and we also can test hardware," said Bryan.

Bryan helped pour this one and the flat floor before it, and when they say flat, they mean extremely flat.

"95% of the floor is plus or minus 3.5 thousandths of an inch," he said. "That is half the thickness of printer paper."

It's layers of an epoxy compound on top of an isolated five-foot slab of concrete. It was selected by the corps of engineers to make it as stable and flat as possible.

"We have three or four that I know of in the country, and most of them are much smaller or less precise than this," Bryan said

Because the floor is so flat, objects can move across it on a frictionless cushion of air. The facility is also where young engineers can test their ideas.

Students from the University of Kentucky are testing their tethered deployer design. Their design could harness the power of solar wind and use typically harmful protons from the sun as fuel.

"There is a proposed mission in the next, I think, five to eight years maybe to use something like this on a satellite," said Courtney Montague, a student at the University of Kentucky. "We've actually spent the last year designing this and this semester specifically building it. So now we'll get to test it and see if it works."

Tom Bryan said designs like this will change the future of space exploration and made possible by the floor he helped pour.

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