EP-165 Spacelab

two illustrations of astronauts working aboard Spacelab.

"Spacelab is the first project that European industry undertook in the manned space flight field....I consider that we have learned a great deal in the technical as well as in the management field. With American support, from NASA and the American industrial companies, we have today acquired a competence in this field which enables us to approach more complex projects in manned space flight in the future...."

 

Michael Bignier, Director, Space Transportation Systems, ESA, November 28, 1980, at the completion of the engineering model of Spacelab in Bremen, West Germany.

 

CHAPTER SIX: A Day Aboard Spacelab

 

[59] A clash of cymbals, a thunderous roll of drums, then a flourish of trumpets' and the band breaks into a rollicking tune.

The blaring music from the Mission Control Center in Houston pervades the Orbiter's mid deck and jolts three crew members from their sleep to sudden consciousness.

Each of them stretches- but in weightlessness the feeling is not the same as on the Earth, where we push against the pull of gravity.

They open their eyes and at once each of them remembers that this is not a day on Earth but a Shuttle-Spacelab mission, and there is no time to linger.

 

Day in Orbit Begins

A Spacelab shift change is about due. The three- the pilot, a mission specialist, and a payload specialist- make up the "Blue Shift." They start at once to prepare themselves to exchange places with the three other crew members- the commander, the other mission specialist and the other payload specialist- who are designated the "Red Shift."* The Red Shift is nearing the end of a 12-hour duty period at their work stations on the Orbiter's flight deck and in the Spacelab module.

This is the beginning of another day for the Blue Shift and the approach of the end of the day for the Red Shift.

Recorded music from mission control has been the traditional wake-up call used by NASA for space crews f r more than 20 years, ever since Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., became the first American to sleep in space in mid-May 1963. Cooper's 34-hour, 22-orbit mission was the first U.S. manned overnight flight in space and the last in the six-flight series with the one-man Mercury spacecraft. Alone in that small craft, Cooper could not stand or stretch, but had to sit cramped on that craft's small seat throughout the flight whether awake or asleep.

In comparison to Mercury, living quarters for Shuttle-Spacelab crews are almost luxurious.

Shuttle-Spacelab crew members can recline on three comfortable hunks built into the starboard wall of the living quarters in the Orbiter's mid deck on the lower level of the two-tiered crew compartment. That....

 


Left to right, in this photograph inside the Spacelab-1 module, are Payload Specialist Ulf Merbold, Payload Specialist Alternate Michael L. Lampton, Payload Specialist Byron Lichtenberg, and Mission Specialist Owen Garriott.

Left to right, in this photograph inside the Spacelab-1 module, are Payload Specialist Ulf Merbold, Payload Specialist Alternate Michael L. Lampton, Payload Specialist Byron Lichtenberg, and Mission Specialist Owen Garriott. The four conducted performance tests in April 1983 while the module was inside the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

 

[60] ....compartment is forward, just behind the craft's nose. The upper level, called the flight deck, holds instrument and control panels for the commander and pilot and also includes work stations with controls and displays for the mission and payload specialists. The display and controls resemble a large airplane's cockpit.

Equipment for each bunk includes pillows and individual light, fan, communications station, sound-suppressing blanket, and sheets with restraints to keep the sleeper from drifting off weightlessly through the cabin.

 

Sleeping in Weightlessness

On the first several Shuttle flights crew members still used cocoonlike sleeping bags attached to the provision lockers and somewhat resembling the sleep stations of Skylab. The Orbiter retains one such station near the bunks. Crew members enter a small closetlike enclosure, hook themselves up, and go to sleep in an apparently vertical position. Since there is no up or down in weightlessness, the sleeping orientation is of no concern.

Feeling rested and alert, the three Blue Shift crew members unclasp the restraints and are about to plunge into their morning routine when a voice from mission control on their speaker comes up with another U.S. space tradition- an early-morning news summary from Planet Earth: A professional baseball team dropped an important game, to the disgust of the fans in the crew. One of the crew members' children won a prize in a collegiate contest. The voice at mission control thought the father would like to know. The European crew member hears the results of an international soccer match. The President held a news conference in which he said the nation is eagerly watching Spacelab's progress. It has been raining in Houston almost continuously ever since the flight began. But long-range forecasts indicate ideal conditions at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida a week hence, when the Orbiter returns there for its landing on the oversize three-mile runway. Otherwise, the voice says, our Earth is still .spinning as it always has.

 

Lavatory in Orbit

The Orbiter has only one washroom and toilet. Crew members take turns- like a traveling family sharing a motel room. Sanitation facilities are much the same as on the Earth. Airflow substitutes for gravity in carrying away the wastes.

Plastic sleeves around the hand wash basin keep stray droplets from floating away into the cabin. Streams of air rush water over the hands and then out into the wastewater collection tanks. Floating water droplets in the cabin would become a nuisance, as well as a hazard to equipment and crew.

Toilet waste is pushed by air streams into a container. Some waste may be intentionally saved. Its analysis tells doctors which minerals crew members may lose excessively in weightlessness. Such periodic checks increase the understanding of bodily functions and indicate what food supplements may be needed for space travelers on lengthy flights in the future.

Crew members may use conventional shaving cream and safety razors and disposable towels. For those preferring electric shavers, there is a windup shaver operating like an electric model but requiring no plug or battery. It has a built-in vacuum device that sucks up whiskers as the shaving proceeds. Free-floating whiskers could foul up equipment and become a serious nuisance. For a sponge-bath, the only kind available, there is a watergun adjustable for temperatures from 18 to 35 degrees C (65 to 95 degrees F).

 


Preparing a Space Shuttle meal inside the engineering model at the Johnson Space Center in Texas are Scientist-Astronaut Dr. Rhea Seddon (right) and Astronaut Donald E. Williams.

Preparing a Space Shuttle meal inside the engineering model at the Johnson Space Center in Texas are Scientist-Astronaut Dr. Rhea Seddon (right) and Astronaut Donald E. Williams. Williams is rehydrating food in a package with a water dispenser also known as a water gun. Dr. Seddon is preparing a beverage package for rehydration. Food trays are shown attached to locker doors. Utensils are attached to trays with Velcro tabs. The model resembles the galley on the mid deck of the 0rbiter's crew compartment.

 

[61] Variety in Space Menus

For breakfast the Blue Shift enjoys orange drink, peaches, scrambled eggs, sausages, cocoa, and .sweet rolls. The food as well as the food preparation facilities could easily be the envy of many earthbound chefs, homemakers, and diners. Crew members can select from a menu almost as varied and certainly as tasty and nutritious as in most homes or restaurants. One crew member can prepare meals for his shift in about five minutes. Members of the Blue and Red Shifts may eat breakfast and dinner together on some missions if schedules permit.

In a galley to the left of the bunks are an oven, hot and cold water dispensers, and a pantry stocked with 74 kinds of food and 20 different beverages. There are drinking cups and eating utensils. Dining trays separate different food containers and keep them from lifting off and floating through the cabin.

There is no refrigerator and none is needed. To save weight and space, most onboard f oafs are dehydrated by a freeze-drying process developed specifically for space use. Ample water for reconstituting these foods is provided by the fuel cells, which deliver clean water as a by-product of their electricity-generating chemical processes.

Some foods are stored in conventional sealed, heat-sterilized cans or plastic pouches. A few foods, such as cookies and nuts, are in ready-to-eat form. Meals provide for an average of 2,700 calories daily. Experience from earlier space flights shows crews need about as many calories in space as they do on Earth.

 


Rehydration unit for use in meal preparation in the galley aboard the Shuttle's mid deck. Part of a new six-compartment food tray is seen at upper right. Spacelab has only work facilities and no living quarters. The crew returns to the Orbiter's mid deck to eat, sleep, relax, and use sanitary facilities.

Rehydration unit for use in meal preparation in the galley aboard the Shuttle's mid deck. Part of a new six-compartment food tray is seen at upper right. Spacelab has only work facilities and no living quarters. The crew returns to the Orbiter's mid deck to eat, sleep, relax, and use sanitary facilities.

Rehydration unit for use in meal preparation in the galley aboard the Shuttle's mid deck. Part of a new six-compartment food tray is seen at upper right. Spacelab has only work facilities and no living quarters. The crew returns to the Orbiter's mid deck to eat, sleep, relax, and use sanitary facilities.

 

A typical lunch: cream-of-mushroom soup, ham-and-cheese sandwiches, stewed tomatoes, banana, and cookies, a typical dinner: shrimp cocktail, beefsteak, broccoli au gratin, strawberries, pudding, and cocoa.

There is no washing machine. Garbage, trash, and soiled clothing are sealed in airtight plastic bags. This is an important health measure, because studies have shown that microbes can increase in extraordinary quantities in a confined, weightless environment.

 

Shift Change Described

The Blue Shift is ready for the days work. The pilot floats through the open hatch leading through the mid deck's ceiling. He emerges through the floor of the flight deck on the cabin's upper level and takes his seat to the right of the commander. Both are on identical seats, facing the instrument panels. Both are on duty during launch, de-orbit, and reentry, as well as during other critical space maneuvers. The consoles in front and to their sides have duplicate flight controls to enable them to operate the Orbiter from each seat independently should an emergency require it. During launch and reentry one or two mission specialists sit on removable seats behind them. Remaining mission specialists and the payload specialists sit below on the mid deck.

The commander now briefs the pilot on the Orbiter's performance during the last 12 hours. Then the commander signs off with mission control, leaving the pilot in charge. He lowers himself through the hatch into the mid-deck living quarters to begin his 12-hour recreation and sleep period.

In the aft flight deck, directly behind the pilot but facing to the rear of the cabin, the Blue Shift mission specialist has taken his place at the mission operation display and controls and scrutinizes the video display indicating the performance of Orbiter Spacelab systems, including electrical power and communications supporting Spacelab. Two windows, both to his right in the back wall of the flight deck, look out on Spacelab in the cargo bay.

The Blue Shift mission specialist confers on the intercom with his Red Shift counterpart who is presently inside the module working with the payload specialist on experiments. Having satisfied himself that readings are normal, the Blue Shift mission specialist moves down through one of the flight deck floor hatches to the mid deck, [62] then into the tunnel to the module. There he takes the place of the Red Shift mission specialist, who returns through the tunnel to the mid-deck living quarters for his recreation and sleep period.

The Blue Shift payload specialist takes the route followed by the mission specialist into the module. There, after receiving a short briefing about events in the last 12 hours, he takes the place of the Red Shift payload specialist, who leaves the module for his rest period in the living quarters.

Having begun their work, the Blue Shift mission specialist and payload specialist inside the module discuss upcoming experiments with experts on the ground. It is a new experience in manned orbital flight. Long, continuous space-to-ground-to-space communications have not occurred since the Apollo Moon flights. In those the long distance of the craft from the Earth gave the crews a .sweeping view of Earth, so that at least one of the deep-space antennas on three continents were in communication with the spacecraft at all times. But the relatively low orbital altitudes of all other manned flights leave ground-haled antennas beyond the spacecraft's horizon during most of each orbit. Rarely more than about 20 minutes of communication time was available during each 90-minute orbit.

 

Communications Via Satellite

Though not yet in full operation for SL-1, a new communication facility called the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) will eventually provide coverage a large part of the time for Spacelab and all other Shuttle flights wherever they are in Earth orbit.

When completed, TDRSS (NASA officials pronounce the acronym "tea dress") is to consist of three stationary (Earth synchronous) communications satellites. Two of these are to be in operation, while the third is to he in orbit as a spare to replace any malfunctioning satellite.

At the altitude of 35,890 kilometers (22,350 miles)- some 150 times higher than the Orbiter- at least one of the two operating TDRSS satellites is nearly always in the line of sight with the Orbiter. Both satellites will always be in view of the TDRSS ground station at White Sands, New Mexico. The two operating satellites act as relay stations for the Earth-to-TDRSS-to-Orbiter Spacelab-to-TDRSS-to-Earth communications. Voice, video, and data between the White Sands station and the control center at the [63] Johnson Space Center are transmitted via domestic communications satellites.

TDRSS expected ultimately to replace most of the ground stations of NASA's 20-year-old Spaceflight Tracking and Data Network has only one of its satellites in orbit in time for use during the SL-1 mission. That satellite (TDRS A) was launched April 5, 1983 from the cargo bay of the Orbiter Challenger, then making its maiden flight. It was the sixth Shuttle flight (STS-6). After a malfunction in an upper stage rocket the satellite entered an elliptical orbit far too low to serve its intended communications function. But a series of carefully calculated firings of the satellite's small thruster engines by remote radio command NASA and industry controllers gradually raised that orbit over a period of several weeks to a circular orbit at synchronous altitude. The launch of the second TDRSS satellite (TDRS-B), has been postponed to 1984.

To compensate partly for the curtailment of transmission capabilities before the availability of TDRS B; SL- 1 carries more recording tapes than had originally been planned for storing research instrument data on board during communications interruptions until they can be transmitted to Earth or returned with Spacelab.

TDRSS's planned capacity for voice data and video communications between ground stations and orbiting satellites is expected to introduce a new dimension to manned-space science activities. This capacity will be exploited for the first time with Spacelab. Scientists on the ground can watch their own experiments as they are being operated aboard Spacelab. When the TDRSS is fully operational they will be able to see experiment results on video screens and computer readouts on the ground at the same time as the payload specialists who are conducting the experiment in Spacelab. Earthbound scientists can discuss an experiment with the payload specialists as the experiment progresses in Spacelab.

 


Scientists on Earth can monitor and participate in Spacelab experiments almost as if they were aboard the Orbiter through communications links which give them the same instantaneous instrument and computer readouts and displays at the Payload Operations Control Center (POCC) (shown here in simulation) in Houston, Texas.

Scientists on Earth can monitor and participate in Spacelab experiments almost as if they were aboard the Orbiter through communications links which give them the same instantaneous instrument and computer readouts and displays at the Payload Operations Control Center (POCC) (shown here in simulation) in Houston, Texas.

 


(Opposite) NASA's new Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS), top right, serves as an orbit-to-ground-to-orbit communications link for Shuttle /Spacelab, far below at right, as well as for other low-altitude satellites such as the Landsat Earth observation satellite, center. Another high-altitude communications satellite, top left, acts as a relay between the TDRSS' ground stations (antennas at bottom). The four-satellite Global Positioning System is shown in red. The U.S. Space Telescope, right center, to be launched in 1985, is shown also using the TDRSS.

(Opposite) NASA's new Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS), top right, serves as an orbit-to-ground-to-orbit communications link for Shuttle /Spacelab, far below at right, as well as for other low-altitude satellites such as the Landsat Earth observation satellite, center. Another high-altitude communications satellite, top left, acts as a relay between the TDRSS' ground stations (antennas at bottom). The four-satellite Global Positioning System is shown in red. The U.S. Space Telescope, right center, to be launched in 1985, is shown also using the TDRSS.

 


Diagram shows how the new Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) when completed will allow the Orbiter and Spacelab to maintain nearly uninterrupted communications with the Mission Control Center in Houston during orbital flights. Only one of the satellites was in operation in time for the first Spacelab flight. In earlier orbital flights crews could usually communicate with ground stations for only about 20 percent or less of each orbit.

Diagram shows how the new Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) when completed will allow the Orbiter and Spacelab to maintain nearly uninterrupted communications with the Mission Control Center in Houston during orbital flights. Only one of the satellites was in operation in time for the first Spacelab flight. In earlier orbital flights crews could usually communicate with ground stations for only about 20 percent or less of each orbit.

 

[64] To make this new kind of interactive Earth-to-orbit-to-Earth collaboration possible, NASA has established a Payload Operations Control Center (POCC)- pronounced "pock." It is located in the Mission Control Center Building at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Scientists from around the world whose experiments are carried aboard Spacelab gather at the POCC and use its voice, video, and data communications facilities for live observations of ongoing Spacelab experiments and to hold remote conferences with the crew operating their experiments. Eventually scientists will be able to participate in mission operations from their own laboratories in universities and research centers around the world, where they would instantaneously receive the same instrument readouts as their payload specialist colleagues aboard Spacelab.

Earthbound scientists can point out unforeseen research opportunities which may be developing unexpectedly as an experiment progresses. They can advise the payload specialist how best to take advantage of them- or how to deal with unexpected problems.

 

Spacelab Interfaces with Earth

How well this can work has been vividly demonstrated during numerous POCC simulation exercises. In a simulation that could become real on the SL-2 astronomy mission, this conversation was typical:

'I'm looking at a filament [a streamer from a spot on the Sun], " said a scientist while watching a simulated transmission at a POCC TV monitor. Addressing himself to the payload specialist aboard the Spacelab training unit, he suggested, "Is there a thinner filament somewhere?" "OK, " replied the payload specialist, "I'll move / the telescope/ to another edge. Is this better?" "Great, " replied the scientist. "Just what I want. Great!"

Though such scientist-astronaut collaboration was successfully carried out on several earlier U.S. space flights, particularly during geological field trips by astronauts on the Moon's surface in Apollo missions, these efforts were severely hindered by the short communications periods available on Earth-orbital missions and by the crews' operational duties. For example, crews on Moon walks had to watch and regularly report on the function of their life support systems and orbital crews had to monitor and report frequently on the status of their craft's vital systems. Time available for science exchanges was very limited.

In contrast, payload specialists aboard Spacelab can devote almost their entire attention and time to the scientific experiments.

As on every manned U.S. space flight, crew activities aboard Spacelab are governed by a flight plan. Known as a "timeline," this program schedule spells out minute by minute in around-the-clock listings the time and order of every event aboard Spacelab and what each crew member is expected to be doing at any particular time during the mission. Spacelab timelines show exactly when each research instrument is to be turned on and off, when readings need to be taken, and when other observations are to be made.

Experience shows that, particularly when a new craft or new instrument is first flown, unexpected problems or malfunctions sometimes force timeline changes during the flight. Similarly, if in the judgment of the crew, the scientists, and mission controllers unanticipated favorable conditions hold out the promise of extraordinary research gains, on-the-spot timeline changes can be made to take advantage of this serendipity.

Spacelab timelines are the culmination of preparations and planning which began before the flights, years ago. These preparations began with the selection of experiments from hundreds of proposals submitted by scientists from many nations. Committees of scientists screen the proposals and choose those that appear to promise the most significant research results. Obviously, only experiments suitable for Spacelab are chosen. Weight, size, power consumption, and requirements for computer and crew time are carefully evaluated.

 

Working Group Provides Help

The Investigators Working Group for a particular mission, including the principal investigators associated with the experiments, helps the mission manager make decisions regarding experiments.

Is a proposed lengthy experiment taking away too much orbital observation time from other experiments that require the Orbiter to [65] he positioned in a different direction? Can a proposed Sun observation experiment obtain sufficient data without causing overheating of Orbiter parts exposed to the Sun for a long period? Will Orbiter parts become excessively cold from facing away from the Sun for a long time while accommodating an astronomy experiment?

 


Pages from SL-1 timeline.

Pages from SL-1 timeline.

 

Is there; enough electrical power available from Spacelab to run proposed simultaneous experiments? If not how can experiments be curtailed? Would elimination of a sample from a materials science experiment and the taking of fewer photographs in another experiment keep electricity requirements within the power budget? What are the trade-offs?

After an experiment has been designed and its equipment constructed and tested it is shipped by the researchers to Kennedy Space Center's Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building. About as long as a football field and nearly as wide and 50 feet ( 15 meters) high the O &C Building comprises a virtual assembly line for space science. It has facilities where arriving experiments are unpacked retested by the experimenters themselves and readjusted and recalibrated before they are installed on the pallets or in the racks. Additional testing assures that the research instruments can share Spacelab accommodations without interfering with each other or with Spacelab or Orbiter systems.

[66] Loaded racks are then connected with each other into rack trains in the same sequence in which they are to appear in the module and are lifted inside it.

Modules and pallets are they transferred to the Orbiter Processing Facility and there installed in the Orbiter s cargo hay. The Orbiter, with Spacelab aboard, is moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building where the Orbiter is mated to the large external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters. Then the entire assembly is moved on the tractor crawler to the launch pad and readied for liftoff.

 

Payload Specialists Get Training

Meanwhile, mission and payload specialists are undergoing intensive training, much of it in simulators- replicas that behave as closely as possible to flight units.

 


This picture of a crew member at work at a data systems display terminal inside Spacelab will repeat itself often in orbit. Here at the Spacelab Payload Crew Training Complex at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Hunstville, Alabama, Dr. Claude Nicollier shows what the terminal will look like.

This picture of a crew member at work at a data systems display terminal inside Spacelab will repeat itself often in orbit. Here at the Spacelab Payload Crew Training Complex at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Hunstville, Alabama, Dr. Claude Nicollier shows what the terminal will look like. Dr. Nicollier, a Swiss astronomer, was one of the original five payload-specialist candidates for Spacelab-1. He is presently in training as a Mission Specialist at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

 

[67] In Johnson Space Center s Orbiter simulator, payload specialists acquaint themselves with the layout and furnishings of the Orbiter s living and work areas and practice using these facilities. Since Spacelab has no living facilities other than its laboratory-workshop, crew members have to commute through the tunnel to the Orbiter s mid deck for food, recreation, sleep, and the use of sanitary facilities.

At JSC's Spacelab simulator the mission and payload specialists learn how to use the Spacelab systems such as the Control and Data Management System and the scientific airlock. At Marshall Space Flight Center s Payload Crew Training Complex they rehearse their timeline schedules. In training sessions running continuously for many hours they simulate operating the research instruments as scheduled. Computers programmed to simulate each instrument's responses to the crews inputs make these training sessions almost indistinguishable from their experiences later on the flight.

The computers are programmed to simulate problems and malfunctions of the instruments as part of payload specialists training for handling almost any contingency.

For past space flights this type of training has been so realistic that returning crews have said the mission itself seemed to be merely another simulation. Sometimes the flights seemed easier than the simulations filled with the computer-contrived problems and malfunctions. Fortunately, most of these contrived emergencies never occurred during the flights.

Much of the training of payload specialists takes place at the laboratories of the chief investigators who designed the experiments. Payload specialists spend much of their time traveling to these laboratories and meeting with these scientists and their staffs. Frequently the mission specialists accompany them on these trips. They learn operation of the instruments and their idiosyncracies- how to use them, adjust them, and repair them.

The trip in space may be a one-time experience for many payload specialists. Their attention will be deeply absorbed in almost nonstop explorations into the unknown. There are unlikely to be any ordinary days for them aboard Spacelab, if indeed any day that has 15 sunrises and sunsets can ever be called ordinary. As they complete each of their 12-hour duty shifts, they will almost certainly have had a day as a day as exciting and satisfying as any scientists ever had at their work.

 

Two Shifts an Innovation

STS-9/SL-1, which is America s 40th manned space flight, is the first with regular in-flight shift changes. On all except a few earlier U.S. manned space flights, all crew members worked and slept at the same hours. While they were asleep, mission control watched the spacecraft systems remotely via telemetry. Built-in alarm systems awakened the crew in emergencies.

Though there are obvious advantages in keeping experiments operating and under direct observation on a 24-hour-a-day basis, some observers believe the schedule of two 12-hour shifts will not become a permanent feature of U.S. space missions. They reason that, in a relatively small spacecraft, off-duty crew members are likely to have their sleep disturbed by noise from the working members of the crew and operating instruments. Single shifts for the entire crew are planned for some Spacelab flights.

As the Red Shift crew members begin their recreation period On the mid deck, one of the three may dictate the recollections of the day s happenings into a tape recorder and make some written notes for a private diary. Others may relax with a variety of games stocked for their use during leisure hours. Music for after-dinner listening is available from the mid deck s small tape library before they sleep. In a few hours mission control will again jar them awake with the blaring notes of the next wake-up call.


* On the SL-1 flight the Red Shift is made up of crew members Young, Parker, and Merbold; the Blue Shift, Shaw, Garriott, and Lichtenberg.


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