Shuttle to kick off 3rd year of Space Station science

by Marshall Space Flight Center

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Space Shuttle Endeavour will deliver a 14-ton, backbone-like truss — assembled and tested at NASA's Marshall Center — to the International Space Station next week. Astronauts will perform three spacewalks to install, outfit and activate the new truss that will enhance the Station's future power and cooling systems. The STS-113 Shuttle mission also will bring up more laboratory experiments — kicking off the third year of science operations on the Station. The command post for Station science operations is NASA's Payload Operations Center at Marshall.

Photo: Backdropped against a blue and white Earth, this view of the Space Shuttle Atlantis was photographed by an Expedition Five crewmember onboard the International Space Station during rendezvous and docking operations in October. (NASA)

Next week, Space Shuttle Endeavour will deliver to the International Space Station (ISS) the third piece of the Station’s exterior truss backbone, and kick off the third year of science inside the orbiting laboratory by bringing up a new load of scientific experiments.

The 14-ton, girder-like, Port One, or P1 truss — assembled and tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. — will enhance the Station’s future cooling and power systems. It will be attached to the left side of the Segment Zero, or S0 truss, during the fourth day of the STS-113 mission.

While the Endeavour is docked with the Station, astronauts will perform three spacewalks to outfit and activate the new truss. The Station’s other two truss structures — the S0 and Starboard One, or S1 — were installed earlier this year.

“This is the first port integrated truss segment to be delivered to the Station,” said Alex Pest, the Boeing Company manager who oversaw the completion of the P-1 truss when it was assembled and tested at the Marshall Center. “We tested the truss’ strength, as well as its electrical connections and fluid lines that will be important for future Station power and cooling.”

The STS-113 mission also kicks off the beginning of the third year of science aboard the orbiting research laboratory and marks the start of a new four-month crew rotation on the ISS. Expedition Six Commander Ken Bowersox and NASA ISS Science Officer Don Pettit and Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin will conduct new scientific experiments and continue research started on the five prior expeditions.

Although the Station is in the process of being built and the lab is still being outfitted, research hours are adding up. More than 65 NASA-funded investigations have compiled more than 90,000 hours of science operations time on-orbit. The Station’s five Expedition crews have devoted more than 1,000 hours to research on the ISS.

To carry out Expedition Six’s 19 experiments, the crew will work closely with ground controllers in the science command post for ISS science operations — the Payload Operations Center at Marshall.

“We manage all the science operations on the Station and work with planners and scientists around the world to schedule research activities,” said Lamar Stacy, the payload operations director who leads the Expedition Six payload ops team at the Marshall Center. “To ensure successful operations, we work before each expedition, training the crew and preparing procedures for conducting research in orbit.”

Many of the Station experiments are managed by the Marshall Center. Fundamental experiments that explore how physical processes are affected by the microgravity, or low-gravity inside the Station, are managed by Marshall’s Microgravity Sciences and Applications Division. Industry-funded research conducted through NASA’s 15 Commercial Space Centers is managed by the Space Product Development Program at the Marshall Center.

The new investigations include two series of fluid physics experiments to be conducted inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox — a major research facility delivered to the Station in June. The glovebox features a sealed work area with windows and attached rubber gloves that allow crewmembers to work safely with experiments involving chemicals, fluids and burning or molten samples. It was built by the European Space Agency in cooperation with the Marshall Center.

A new life sciences experiment — Foot/Ground Reaction Forces During Space Flight — characterizes the load on the lower body and muscle activity in crewmembers while working on the Station.

The Protein Crystal Growth Single-locker Thermal Enclosure System (PCG-STES), which has flown on three prior Station research expeditions, will return to orbit with a new set of proteins and other biological substances. Scientists want to grow high-quality crystals of selected proteins in microgravity for later analyses on the ground to determine the proteins’ molecular structure. Research may contribute to advances in medicine, agriculture and other fields.

New samples will be delivered for the Zeolite Crystal Growth Furnace (ZCG) — an experiment sponsored by a commercial firm attempting to grow larger crystals in microgravity, with possible applications in chemical processes, electronic device manufacturing and other applications on Earth.

Endeavour will bring back plants, biological crystals, and microscopic capsules that are small enough to transport drugs to specific parts of the human body. Experiment equipment and samples will be returned to scientists around the world for in-depth analysis.

To launch the payloads and the new Expedition Six ISS crew safely into orbit, Marshall managers and engineers will support the STS-113 launch from both the Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and Huntsville Operations Support Center at the Marshall Center.

The Space Shuttle Projects Office at Marshall manages the Shuttle’s propulsion system, including its three main engines, external fuel tank, twin solid rocket boosters and reusable solid rocket motors. Marshall serves as a key leader in NASA’s research and development of the propulsion systems that enable safe, reliable and lower-cost access to space and space exploration.