Jul 15, 1997

Planning Another 16-day Marathon - and Beyond






Science on Flight Day 16 of MSL-1


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July 16, 1997 10 a.m. CDT


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USMP-3 at KSC, January 1996
As the flight crew of MSL-1 starts packing away experiment hardware today, engineers on Earth are working on the next microgravity sciences missions aboard the Space Shuttle.

Like MSL-1, this will be a 16-day marathon aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. The STS-87 mission is scheduled for launch on November 19 carrying the fourth U.S. Microgravity Payload (USMP-4). The USMP-3 payload is shown at left in final integration at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in 1996. The largest, most visible part of the the payload is an array of four experiment units sitting atop a bridge-like structure spanning the Space Shuttle's payload bay. (STS-87 also will also carry the Spartan 201 solar telescope and other experiments.)

The U.S. Microgravity Payload has performed well in its first three flights to date. The most recent was the STS-75 mission in 1996 which also carried the Tethered Satellite System reflight.

The platform itself carries four experiment systems, the Advanced Automated Directional Solidification Furnace, or AADSF (NASA/Marshall), MEPHISTO furnace (a joint French, NASA, and University of Florida effort), the Isothermal Dendritic Growth Experiment, or IDGE (NASA/Lewis and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), and the Confined Helium Experiment (Jet Propulsion Lab and Stanford). Scientists will use each to expand our understanding of different aspects of how fluids behave, particularly as they melt and then refreeze. The AADSF, IDGE, and MEPHISTO will continue research on fundamentals of solidification and growing advanced electronics materials and crystals. The Confined Helium Experiment will be used to study the behavior of liquid helium, an important coolant for some space instruments, as it changes from a normal to a superfluid state.


A member of the MSL-1 crew sets up the Capillary Heat Transfer experiment in the Middeck Glovebox mounted in the Spacelab module. The glovebox is designed to be mounted in several locations - such as the orbiter middeck or the Spacehab module - to increase the number of flight opportunities it has.


monitoring CHT in the glovebox during MSL-1

The USMP-4 payload also includes middeck experiments using the same Middeck Glovebox Experiment facility now aboard MSL-1. The flight crew will conduct experiments similar to those carried out on MSL-1, including Enclosed Laminar Flames, Particle Engulfment and Pushing by Solidifying Interfaces (PEP), and Wetting Characteristics of Immiscibles.

NASA is studying opportunities for microgravity science missions in 1998 and beyond, explained Dr. Sandor Lehoczky, the chief of the microgravity sciences in the Space Sciences Laboratory at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Lehoczky explained that USMP-4 could serve as the core of a Microgravity Sciences Payload (MSP-1) mission proposed for flight in a few years. Middeck Glovebox Experiments may also be carried as opportunities arise both in the Shuttle middeck and in Spacehab, a commercial module carried in the Shuttle payload bay. Spacehab acts as an extension of the middeck, offering some of the room available in a Spacelab module although it does not have the same power or data resources. Spacehab can also carry the Express rack which has been demonstrated on MSL-1. At present, Spacehab is used mainly in resupply missions to Russia's Mir space station, but NASA is considering additional flights to support life and microgravity sciences.


spacehab views


The Spacehab module offers nearly as much working space as the Spacelab module.

Lehoczky said that protein crystal growth experiments will continue aboard Shuttle, too.

"We are always trying to put PCG on every possible mission," he said. "We are looking at flying things to Mir if that remains a viable option." Science plans there are on hold pending the outcome of Russia's efforts to repair Mir.

Looking farther down the space calendar, NASA plans to develop major experiment facilities that will provide long-term experiment opportunities aboard the International Space Station. These include a Biotechnology Facility that will hold protein crystal growth and tissue culturing experiments, a triple-rack furnace facility for long-duration materials science experiments, fluid and combustion research, and low-temperature phenomena investigations.


HH-DTC check


Experiments will continue with protein crystal growth in the middeck (an astronaut photographs the Handheld Diffusion Test Cells in the middeck) and may also employ the EXPRESS rack (right) in Spacehab.

For the remainder of this flight, 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.

But stay tuned! The Space Sciences Laboratory, at Marshall Space Flight Center, reports on the latest NASA Science News coming from our scientists and their colleagues throughout the world! Our latest headlines - on atmospheric physics and "global warming," the Earth's aurora, the Sun, deep space astrophysics, and of course microgravity science - can always be found at



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