Jul 1, 1997

MSL-1 Mission Gets Off to a Quiet Start





July 2, 1997 7:45 a.m. CDT


spacelab view 2-july approx 7:30 a.m. CDT
The lights went back on in Spacelab Tuesday as the crew of Microgravity Sciences Laboratory (MSL-1) reactivated experiment equipment that they had to shut down in the dark almost three months ago.

Where the first flight soon had an almost frantic feel to it as a fuel cell started acting up, the reflight so far is marked by a lack of interesting events – which is good.

"We’ve had a reasonably quiet start," said mission scientist Patton Downey Tuesday evening during the Science Operation Planning Group meeting. Overall, the mission start up was "fairly nominal."

The payload crew spent their hours after launch activating experiments, or assembling equipment, for research in metals and alloy formation, protein crystal growth, and combustion.

For the most part, the reflight will be identical to what scientists and engineers had planned to fly in April when a fuel cell problem cut the mission short. When one of the three fuel cells acted up, the cell was shut down and the crew operated almost in the dark as they turned out lights to conserve power for experiments. The mission was cut short just as several experiments, such as combustion physics, were showing great promise. Those brief results led NASA officials to go for a unique reflight, keeping the crew, hardware, and even flight plans intact for a second shot.

Columbia was launched Tuesday, July 1, at 1:02 p.m. CDT. The crew entered Spacelab at 4:52 p.m., and by 6:53 p.m. had activated Spacelab and most of the experiment facilities. Unlike household appliances (or even the stuff that video spacemen use), scientific gear must be turned on slowly so crucial parts can be conditioned. The TEMPUS electromagnetic levitation furnace , for example, must be pumped down to a vacuum so its metal alloy samples, each the size of a gumball, can be levitated and melted properly. Japan’s Large Isothermal Furnace takes time to warm up to melt its samples, and also must be vented to vacuum.

The three protein crystal growth experiments were activated by the crew in the middeck. These experiments will run untended but for occasional observations by the crew. Some photographs may be lost because of a problem with a polarizing filter used to show internal structures of crystals, the same as Polaroid sunglasses darken the sky. However, loss of this filter will not have any impact on the ultimate science goal, which is to grow the crystals in space in order to decipher their structure on the ground - after MSL-1 comes home.

Early Wednesday morning, the crew solved a minor problem with activating the Express rack which is designed to allow quick installation of experiments on International Space Station.

For the next 15 days, you can follow along and learn about the science being performed on the mission through activities on this WWW site, as well as the "Liftoff" Mission Home Page, and the Shuttle Web Site.

  • Check out the twice daily Mission Status Reports prepared by Marshall's Public Affairs Office.
  • More Science Updates



return to MSL-1 science home page
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Author: Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack