Jul 8, 1997

Laboratory Beyond the Sky






Science on Flight Day 9 of MSL-1


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July 9, 1997 09:00 a.m. CDT



space station modules, Marshall Space Flight Center and Boeing
Doing science aboard the International Space Station will have many similarities from science activities aboard the MSL-1 mission now under way - and many differences.


"For most people, it will be closer to banker's hours than it is here," said assistant mission scientist Patton Downey during an interview at 3 a.m., the middle of his workday on MSL-1, "but Space Station will still be supported around the clock because you'll have automated systems that have to be monitored."

Above: The laboratory and habitat modules shells are finished by Boeing Co. in Huntsville. The modules next will be outfitted with equipment so astronauts can continue research started on Spacelab.

In 1983 the Spacelab 1 mission team advertised "science around the world, around the clock." Virtually every Spacelab mission since then has operated 24 hours a day, with the crews on 12-hour shifts, to get the maximum scientific return out of flights that lasted up to 16 days. The six person Space Station crews, while almost the same size as the seven person Shuttle/Space crews, will operate more normal hours for the duration of their three to six month assignments.


artist's conception of ISS
International Space Station (an artist's conception appears at right) will feature an array of facilities that will stay in orbit for years at a time so scientists can direct experiments, analyze results, and then direct modified experiments that take advantage of what was learned the first time around. That is possible to a limited extent aboard Spacelab where the payload crew works with science teams on the ground to get the most out of experiments, and to resolve problems with equipment.


However, Spacelab returns to Earth aboard the Space Shuttle after a couple of weeks and the investigators may have to wait months or even years for a reflight (the quick reflight of MSL-1, from April to July, is a unique event in Spacelab history).

Physical accommodations aboard Space Station will be different from what have been available aboard Spacelab. The racks that hold equipment will be about the same width, but the resemblance ends there. The International Standard Payload Racks aboard Space Station are made of graphite epoxy composite, and they can be removed, in space, from the modules by tilting them forward into the module aisle. Spacelab racks have to be removed on the ground. Space Station racks also will connect to more advanced computer and video networks than were available when Spacelab was designed in the mid-1970s.

For those experimenters who don't need an entire rack, and who need quick availability, NASA is developing the Express rack system described in an earlier story.



modified EXPRESS rack
Most experiment apparatus aboard Space Station will be mounted inside the International Standard Payload Rack (ISPR), like the drawing at right. The Human Research Facility will use a modified version of the Express rack, shown at left, which is designed for "plug-n-chug" operations aboard Space Station.


ISPR drawing

The wide range of facilities available aboard Space Station poses a new balancing act.

"The management of resources while trying to do scientific investigations is something that requires quite a bit of effort," Downey explained. The resources comprise a number of things, including electrical power, crew time, video and data downlinks, and computer time. Electrical power will be limited in the early years of station operations until the complete set of solar arrays is installed.

While most people think of crew time as the most valuable asset, "video can be truly precious," Downey said. As seen on the experiments aboard MSL-1, experiments involving combustion or the melting of alloys in the TEMPUS furnace have involved extensive video from Spacelab so scientists can monitor and direct their experiments. Work in the advanced glovebox facility may require extensive "eyes on" support from scientists on the ground. While the HiPac video system - which compresses six video channels into one - has helped on MSL-1, Space Station will have activities in the equivalent of several Spacelab modules at once.

"Learning how to integrate all your activities in a way that utilizes your resources to achieve maximum output is pretty tough job," Downey said.



the new glovebox for ISS
The glovebox facility aboard Space Station will be an advanced descendant of the Middeck Glovebox being used aboard MSL-1. The new facility will occupy a full rack (left) and will offer a more generous operating volume (right) for experimenters .


drawing of a flame in space by Voss

Downey said that Space Station planners are studying how best to schedule science activities. One possibility is to hold "campaigns" where the crew concentrates in one area for a month or two, and one NASA field center provides most of the support for that activity. Marshall Space Flight Center is NASA's lead center for biotechnology and materials science, for example, while Lewis Research Center has the lead for fluid physics.

While that would simplify crew training and other aspects of on-orbit operations, it could also place heavy demands on resources, such as lots of crew time for human physiology investigations, or lot of electrical power to run several furnaces.

The work will be helped by advanced graphics work stations - Spacelab started with simple alphanumeric displays in the 1970s - but Downey does not see them as the final answer.

"Computers can't help you think," he said. "And that's the most demanding part of this job."


See also NASA's primary station web site.

For the next 8 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 our daily image and video highlights on the "Science In Action" page!!

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


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Author: Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack