to deliver new 'doorway to space', Marshall Center experiment to Space
soon will leave the International Space Station more easily through
a new "doorway to space" when the Space Shuttle Atlantis delivers to
the Station an airlock built and tested at NASA's Marshall Space Flight
Center in Huntsville, Ala.
to the airlock, the next Shuttle mission, STS-104, set for launch on
July 12, will carry a crystal growth experiment sponsored by Marshall's
Biotechnology Program. It will be making its third trip to the Station.
And Atlantis will lift-off with a new, improved Space Shuttle Main Engine,
developed under the Marshall Center's direction.
to fly," said Todd May, the airlock element manager in Marshall's Flight
Projects Directorate. "The Joint Airlock Module will provide a critical
capability for the Space Station by allowing space walks in U.S. spacesuits
without relying on the Space Shuttle and its airlock."
The U.S. Joint
Airlock will make it easier for crews to perform Extravehicular Activities,
know as EVAs or space walks, and allow both Russian and American spacesuits
to be worn when the Shuttle is not docked with the Space Station. Currently,
American suits will not fit through Russian airlocks. The third EVA
during STS-104 will be staged out of the new airlock and will be the
first space walk from the Station using a U.S. suit.
to the Joint Airlock Module, a new high-pressure gas system - also manufactured
at the Marshall Center -- will be carried into orbit on a double Spacelab
Pallet that fits inside the Shuttle's cargo bay.
to see hardware that did such a good job supporting Spacelab science
payloads continue the tradition by carrying major components to our
newest space research facility," said Elaine Flowers Duncan, the project
manager for the Spacelab Pallet in Marshall's Flight Projects Directorate.
By reusing the
Spacelab Logistic Pallet and Marshall's 20 years of successful experience
integrating and operating unpressurized carriers, the Flight Projects
Directorate is making it less expensive to transport Space Station components.
Duncan's team of MSFC and Boeing engineers was instrumental in performing
the analytical integration required to carry the Space Station's high-pressure
gas system into orbit.
all the engineering, including design, development, test and evaluation
of the flight support equipment and the pallet to carry the equipment
safely on the Shuttle to the Space Station," said Duncan.
Pallet team will support the mission from the Huntsville Operations
Support Center Engineering Support Room at the Marshall Center.
gas system includes two oxygen and two nitrogen tanks to be mounted
on the outside of the airlock. The oxygen and nitrogen in the tanks
will be used to repressurize the airlock after space walks, replenishing
the Station's air when small amounts are lost during EVAs and normal
operations and augmenting the Station's current gas resupply system.
testing the new airlock, high-pressure gas tanks and Spacelab pallet
was a team effort involving more than 12 contractors from two countries,
as well as three NASA centers - Marshall, the Johnson Space Center in
Houston, Texas, and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Boeing
Company, the Space Station prime contractor, built the 6.5-ton (5.8
metric ton) airlock and several other key Space Station components in
the same Marshall Center building where the Saturn V rocket was built
that carried people to the Moon.
"It's been a
tremendous pleasure to watch the NASA and Boeing team transform an empty
shell into a flight-worthy component of the Space Station," said May.
The Joint Airlock
Module is spindle-shaped, consisting of two cylindrical, pressurized
chambers. It is 18 feet (5.49 meters) long and has a diameter of 13
feet (3.96 meters). Inside the large chamber attached directly to the
Unity node, astronauts from every participating nation can suit up for
space walks to assemble the Station, perform maintenance or install
In the large
chamber, several crew members don suits and perform other activities
to prepare for extravehicular activities. Just before the start of a
space walk, crew members close a hatch and move to the smaller part
of the airlock. Here, pressure is reduced, so the crew can safely go
outside and work in the vacuum of space.
Before the airlock
was shipped to the Kennedy Center in September 2000, several tests were
conducted at the Marshall Center to ensure it would work safely in orbit.
A full-suit checkout test in August 1999, and an oxygen systems test
in March 2000, were critical to the airlock's performance.
Tests of both
Russian and U.S. spacesuits included checking communications between
systems in the suits and the airlock, fluid checks of cooling loops
and battery checks. The airlock has its own environmental control system,
which was evaluated by closing the hatch and measuring temperature and
humidity control and carbon dioxide removal capability.
and acoustics testing, thermal and structural analysis, mechanical evaluation
and testing, and safety are just a few of the areas Marshall team members
have supported," said May. "Marshall also provided manufacturing facilities
and performed program-critical tasks."
upcoming Atlantis mission, the Space Station's new robot arm, delivered
to the Station in April, will be used to pick up the airlock and attach
it to Unity. Unity also was built and tested at the Marshall Center
-- a primary NASA center for Space Station construction.
The arm will
be used to grab each of the four gas tanks from the Spacelab pallet
and place them near the airlock. Astronauts performing an extravehicular
activity using the Shuttle airlock will attach the four tanks to the
outside of the large part of the airlock using mechanisms tested by
Marshall engineers. During the STS-104 mission, astronauts will conduct
three extravehicular activities to complete airlock activation operations.
On their way
to the Station, the Space Shuttle crew can expect an even safer ride
into orbit, thanks to completion of a new Space Shuttle Main Engine.
This is the first flight of the engine -- called the Block II configuration
- developed under Marshall Center direction. The engine has a new high-pressure
fuel turbopump and other features that enhance its reliability. The
main engines operate for about eight-and-one-half minutes during liftoff
and ascent, and shut down just before the Shuttle reaches low-Earth
orbit - the address of the International Space Station.
While the Shuttle
is docked with the Station, the crew will transfer a biotechnology experiment
from the Shuttle middeck to the orbiting laboratory. Students and teachers
from elementary, middle and high schools throughout Alabama, California
and Tennessee helped prepare biological solutions inside the experiment
During a one-month
stay in space, the solutions will form crystals that help scientists
and the students learn how biological substances carry out important
functions in humans, animals and plants. This hands-on education and
science experiment will join seven other experiments, already on the
Station, sponsored by the Microgravity Research Program at Marshall
-- NASA's lead center for flying experiments that take advantage of
low gravity inside the Space Station.