Jul 16, 1997

Answers to Questions Undreamt






Science Wrap-up of MSL-1/STS-94


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July 17, 1997 11 a.m. CDT


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working on the Glovebox
From the quantity and quality of science results to the number of commands send from the ground to space, the Microgravity Sciences Laboratory (MSL-1), which wrapped Wednesday afternoon, set a record for superlatives.

"How do you spell success?" asked mission scientist Mike Robinson in the final mission update briefing Wednesday afternoon. "I spell it M-S-L-1."

Although landing came this morning at 05:46 a.m. CDT, the science mission ended, gradually, Wednesday as the flight crew deactivated experiments, stowed equipment, and then turned out the lights in preparation for landing.

The mission was overshadowed by news from Mars, but mission manager Teresa Vanhooser said she saw the same excitement in the faces of MSL-1 investigators as several years of work came to life on video monitors and computer screens.

"Everybody is going home happy," she said.

"I don't think you can do any better," Robinson added. In speaking of one set of combustion experiments, he said that the scientists "have answers they never dreamed of getting."

Experiments aboard MSL-1 were designed to peek into the fine details of how materials behave - in metal formation, crystal growth, combustion, and other areas - without the disturbing influences of gravity.

Each scientist got at least as much science as planned, Robinson said, and "more than half got bonuses" with additional experiment runs made possible by a payload crew that sometimes ran ahead of the flight schedule.

MSL-1 had a rough start in April when an apparent problem with a power-generating fuel cell cut the mission short. NASA quickly recycled both Space Shuttle and Spacelab to make a July 1 launch. This time, there was no stopping the scientists.

"Did we give the principal investigators [the lead scientists] the opportunity to do their science?" Robinson asked. "The answer there is a definite 'yes'" in terms of experiments run.

"The way you really ought to judge the success of this mission is by the science objectives" that the scientists set for themselves, Robinson said. "In most cases it's already 'yes.' In some cases it may take years of study to determine the answers."

The mission set a record of its own, with more than 35,000 commands - 25,000 was the previous record - sent to Spacelab from the Payload Operations Control Center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.



Droplet Combustion Experiment ignition
Flame On - and on, and on

Combustion experiments stole much of the show with "fires in space" getting most of the news coverage during the mission. All the combustion experiments achieved more than their planned runs as they burned virtually every drop or whiff of fuel available to them. Each experiment took different, complementary approaches to studying the basics of fire.



TEMPUS metallic sample heating up in the furnace
Heavy Metal

Fire - either flame or electric - is used to melt metals to form new shapes and materials. Several MSL-1 experiments were designed to study how to make those products better, something mankind has done since early humans discovered that fire softened metals and made them easier to work.



Bubble and Droplet Nonlinear Dynamics experiment examined behavior of water droplets
Back to Fundamentals

Several experiments investigated some basic physics and engineering that could improve future experiments or spacecraft operations. Each dealt with different types of fluid motion.



HH-DTC protein crystal growth being monitored
Better Health Through Crystals

The protein crystal growth (PCG) program continued its use of outer space to study the inner space of human biology. Crystals grown of proteins from humans, plants and animals, and viruses and bacteria are helping scientists become sophisticated safecrackers who can decipher how a disease works and then padlock the machinery. Growth in the weightlessness of space yields crystals that are better than those grown on Earth.



EXPRESS rack for Space Station
Expediting the Future

A design for hitching a quick ride to the Space Station was tested with a new rack that itself was an experiment as it hosted two other experiments.


By visiting this site, you were able learn about the science being performed on this mission and why, as well as visiting 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



Science in Action GIF
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Author: Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls