For release: 03/07/02
Release #: 02-048
Space Station Payload Operations Center marks one year as ‘fourth crewmember’ of orbiting outpost
On March 19, the Payload Operations Center at the Marshall Center will mark its one-year anniversary of round-the-clock operations in support of science aboard the world's only orbiting research station. Space Station science experiments and payload operations are managed by the Payload Operations Center.
Photo: Members of the Operations Center team (NASA/MSFC)
It’s not attached to the International Space Station laboratory or a Russian module or any of the connecting pieces, but NASA’s Payload Operations Center has been one of the Station’s most important components.
On March 19, the Operations Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will mark the one-year anniversary of round-the-clock operations in support of science aboard the world’s only orbiting research station.
Staffed around the clock by three shifts of six to 19 flight controllers, this science command and control center links Earth-bound researchers with their experiments – or payloads — in orbit. Together, these controllers represent, for the International Space Station, a virtual “fourth crewmember” devoted to science.
Working with scientists and other control centers around the world, the Operations Center team sends commands to experiments, watches their progress, monitors their health and receives data. And the team members are always available to answer questions from the Space Station crew, and assist them in their research activities.
In addition to managing all science research experiment operations onboard the Station, the Payload Operations Center also is responsible for coordination of the mission planning work of the Space Station’s international partners, all science experiments going to and coming from the Station, and experiment training and safety programs for Space Station crews and ground personnel.
“This date is a major milestone for us,” said Jan Davis, director of Flight Projects at the Marshall Center. “Before the International Space Station gave us a permanent world-class laboratory for doing important scientific research, NASA’s longest Space Shuttle scientific mission in space was two weeks. The Payload Operations Center represents an incredible effort to evolve from the science aboard the Shuttle to supporting round-the-clock operations aboard the Space Station — as well as integrating the daily participation of our international partners — for the next 15 years. We’re proud of what we have accomplished for NASA and for science.”
Now, one year after continuous research began, there are five research racks installed in the Destiny laboratory module. Each rack is designed to provide power, fluids, data, cooling and other utilities to a variety of experiments.
The Payload Operations Center has supported 52 different science investigations. It has assisted Space Station crews with nearly 600 hours of research work onboard the laboratory, as well as overseeing more than 60,000 hours of experiment operating time that is controlled by the science team on the ground. By early 2003, 10 research racks for experiments will be on orbit, and more than 60 experiments will be started or completed.
Onboard now, the first second-generation space plants are growing. Already, the Station has hosted its first commercial experiments. Scientists have conducted medical research in osteoporosis, breast cancer and the body’s immune function. Hundreds of students have prepared experiments for the Space Station, and they’ve been able to see the results of their work in their classroom, via the Internet, after the experiments were returned to Earth.
Hundreds of other students, participating in an educational Space Station experiment, have instructed a camera onboard the Space Station to take pictures of cities, mountains, coastlines and other places they’re studying in their classrooms. Hundreds of images have been sent back that the students are using for various history, geography, science, and environmental lessons.
Scientists are gathering basic data on radiation, vibrations and more that will tell scientists how to make space exploration easier for astronauts and more useful for other scientists planning future experiments.
“Even as we are building the Space Station, we have been doing valuable research in medicine, agriculture, human life science, Earth’s environment, manufacturing and education,” said John Uri, of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, who is the lead scientist for Expeditions Two, Three and Four to the Space Station. Each Expedition, about four months long, is led by a different crew of three, and may include additional visits by Space Shuttles and Russian spacecraft bringing supplies.
“Feedback from the first two Space Station crews has been positive about the experiments, their training, their onboard instructions and our day-to-day interactions with them from the Payload Operations Center,” Uri said. “From training the crews and writing instructions to managing experiment hardware and overseeing the flow of commands and data to and from the Space Station, the Marshall Center and its Payload Operations Center obviously deserve much credit.”
Mike Doherty, principal investigator for the Experiment on Physics of Colloids in Space, now operating aboard the Space Station, credited the Payload Operations Center for the smooth operation of his experiment.
"All of our colloids experiment studies are conducted in close cooperation with the Payload Operations Center and the team there has been great to work with on issues such as scheduling clear communication windows for sending commands to our experiment and for downloading our results from the Space Station,” said Doherty, of NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.
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