For release: 03/28/02
Release #: 02-063
Jan Davis column:
Space Station: friends on board and much work ahead for Marshall Center
No matter how grand the mission — space telescopes, cutting-edge medical research or space stations — the one question everyone wants to ask an astronaut is, "What's it like up there?" In a personal column, former astronaut Dr. Jan Davis, now director of Flight Projects at the Marshall Center, talks about life aboard the International Space Station and the ground team supporting science operations onboard the orbiting research outpost.
Photo: Dr. Jan Davis (NASA/MSFC)
No matter how grand the mission — space telescopes, cutting-edge medical research or space stations — the one question everyone wants to ask an astronaut is, “What’s it like up there?”
As a former astronaut, I was lucky enough to learn for myself what it was like during three Space Shuttle missions in 1992, 1994 and 1997.
When astronauts from the first three crews aboard the International Space Station visited Marshall Space Flight Center over the past year, I, too, wanted to know: What’s it like to really live in space for four months aboard a permanent outpost — instead of the two-week trips I took aboard a Shuttle?
They told me that it truly seems more like living in a home in space, and they genuinely enjoy living there. Shuttle missions are not usually longer than about two weeks, but the four-month International Space Station increments really give crews time to take in the full experience. Some say they’re better able to leave behind the everyday stresses of life on Earth and focus on their work in orbit. Their days are always full, but the pressure of a Shuttle mission — scheduled down to the minute – is no longer part of the experience. Plus, they have a bit more control of their workday.
Humans get used to living in space pretty quickly – within a day or two. So a four-month mission isn’t more difficult physically. We’re learning, however, that re-adjusting to Earth’s gravity when crews return home can take a little longer.
Every astronaut enjoys microgravity. In low earth orbit, the Shuttle or the Station is, in effect, in a state of free fall around the Earth. Without the effect of Earth’s gravity, you can hold on by a toe or even flip over and easily work with experiments built into, what on Earth would be, the Space Station’s ceiling.
The one thing that astronauts still miss — and probably always will — is their connection to the Earth. It’s still important for Station crews to take along pictures of family and other things that remind them of home, as I did. They miss the feel and the sound of the wind, the sound of rushing water, and the other sounds of our planet. I really missed the sound of my barking dog! Much like any traveler to an exotic new locale, when their trip is over, they are glad to come home, but they long to return.
I’m honored to count the Space Station astronauts as colleagues and friends. I’m proud to continue working with them as the leader of the Marshall team that provides many of the facilities, equipment, low-gravity experiments and day-to-day support for science operations on the Space Station.
On March 19, the International Space Station Payload Operations Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center celebrated one year of continuous operations supporting pioneering scientific research aboard the world’s only laboratory in space — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Marshall manages all scientific research operations aboard the Station.
Our team of 559 civil service and contract employees controls experiment operations on the Space Station, writes the ground systems software, coordinates with other control centers and international partners around the world, plans experiments, trains the crew and ground teams, and more. Our ground systems team has also made it possible for scientists around the world to monitor and command their experiments from their laboratories. Today, we have fifteen remote sites that utilize this capability. Together, this team represents a virtual “fourth crew member” totally dedicated to conducting scientific explorations in the “final frontier.”
Our control room personnel – who fill the three shifts required every day — had to juggle family commitments and learn how to sleep at odd hours. Over the past year, they’ve gained a new appreciation of the challenges that routinely face police, firefighters and other critical round-the-clock professions. I’m proud of how they’ve handled it.
Theirs is a vitally important job to the Space Station, to NASA and to the nation — a job this team continues this year during the ongoing process of building the Station and carrying out scientific inquiry in this one-of-a-kind, orbiting research center. Our daily role will become more complex as additional experiments are added to the Station’s Destiny laboratory. That work will be punctuated by several Marshall contributions to the Station program in 2002.
In April, Space Shuttle Atlantis heads to the Station with new science experiments with potential applications to medicine and agriculture, an experiment that studies antibiotic production, and zeolites — a type of crystal with potential to improve petroleum refining. These experiments are managed by NASA’s Space Product Development Office and Biotechnology Program at the Marshall Center.
In May, the Microgravity Science Glovebox, managed by the Marshall Center, will be ferried to the Station on Space Shuttle Endeavour. This is a major new permanent facility with a clear window and built-in rubber gloves so that crews can work safely with potentially toxic or other unique experiments.
The Shuttle also will deliver a new EXPRESS rack. Developed at Marshall, it is a refrigerator-sized unit that provides power, cooling, and other connections for experiments inside; a Mobile Base System that will allow the Space Station’s new Canadian-built arm to assist in construction jobs or research activities almost anywhere on the Station’s exterior; and a set of panels that attach to the exterior of the Space Station to reduce the risk of meteoroid collisions.
Again, experiments, food, and other supplies will be carried up to the Station, and other cargo will be coming home in the Italian-built Leonardo Multi Purpose Logistics Module in the Shuttle cargo bay. People at Marshall have important roles in managing, building and preparing all of this new Station equipment and the cargo modules.
Shuttle missions later this year will carry a fifth replacement crew to live and work on the Station, new experiments managed by the Marshall Center, and new Space Station framework structures tested by Marshall engineers that will make it a bigger and better place for research and exploration.
Looking at our Marshall Center “2002 To-Do List”, you can see we’re still building a research outpost at the same time we’re performing a multitude of experiments on board. Those dual tasks would be challenging on Earth. Remember that this construction site is 270 miles up, moving at 17,500 mph!
The Space Station is more complex than anything in the history of space flight. When you consider the involvement of our international partners, it’s an enormous undertaking. To succeed, you have to be flexible and work as a team. You’ve got to be confident in your training and your ability to deal with the unexpected. And it takes a passion for the job. The Marshall team has the teamwork, flexibility, confidence, training and passion to continue making the International Space Station a successful frontier outpost for scientific exploration in the 21st century.
Note: Dr. Jan Davis, a Huntsville, Ala., native and former astronaut, is director of the Flight Projects Directorate at the Marshall Center. She began her career at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in 1979 as an aerospace engineer. She joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1987 and spent more than 670 hours in space over the course of three Space Shuttle flights. In 1999, she returned to the Marshall Center, where she is director of the Flight Projects Directorate, responsible for developing Space Station components and building and testing special carriers that fit in the Shuttle and make delivery of Space Station parts easier. Flight Projects also staffs and controls the Station’s Payload Operations Center.
Newsroom Home | News releases | Photos | Fact sheets
Video | Audio | Bios | Press kits | Media services | Contact us