The first American research sample processed in the international space station’s Materials Science Laboratory was opened for study March 16 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The Materials Science Lab, a furnace facility developed by the European Space Agency, is housed inside the Materials Science Research Rack built by Marshall and delivered to the station in August 2009 onboard Space Shuttle Discovery.

The newly opened sample cartridge, brought back to Earth Feb. 21 by the Space Shuttle Endeavour, contains an aluminum silicon alloy that was melted and resolidified in orbit. The experiment was controlled by commands from the ground and monitored by scientists at the University of Arizona in Tucson who hope the research will lead to improved material processing techniques on Earth.