NP-119 Science in Orbit: The Shuttle & Spacelab Experience, 1981-1986

 

Chapter 1

Science on the Space Shuttle and Spacelab

 


photo of a space shuttle launch

 

[1] More than a decade ago when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began to design a new launch vehicle, planners envisioned an important use of the Space Shuttle: scientific research.

The outlook was promising. The Shuttle could be used as a platform for observatories to study the Earth and sky; it could serve as host to a laboratory for experiments in the life and materials sciences; it could be a testbed for technology development leading to improved scientific instruments; and the Shuttle itself could be treated as an apparatus for plasma physics experiments in the vast natural laboratory of space. Scientists who were not astronauts would have the rare opportunity to work in space, to escape some of the physical conditions that limit their research on the ground. The pioneering Skylab missions (1973-1974) had proven that surprises would reward those who took the opportunity to do research in space. The prospect of a new merger of science and manned spaceflight was exhilarating.

In a parallel effort during the years of the Shuttle's development, NASA acquired the necessary accommodations for science activities aboard the Shuttle. These include Spacelab, a large, modular laboratory developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), and a set of experiment support structures and carriers, all designed for use in the payload bay. Spacelab is the premier facility for scientific research on the Shuttle; it consists of pressurized laboratory modules and unpressurized pallets that can be used in various combinations for different types of missions. Scientists around the world have developed experiment ideas and hardware for flight in the Shuttle and Spacelab.

 


a view of the Earth from the space shuttle in orbit

landing of the space shuttle


Putting Spacelab in the Space Shuttle.

Putting Spacelab in the Space Shuttle.


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2]

Skylab: America's first orbital laboratory.

Skylab: America's first orbital laboratory.

 

The Space Shuttle and its companion Spacelab have served science well. During its first 5 years in operation (1981 to 1986), the Shuttle was used repeatedly, with great success, as a research facility for experiments in many of the scientific disciplines. Besides offering enhanced capabilities to the sciences that already had ventured into space, such as solar and plasma physics, the Shuttle opened the way for new research in disciplines with less experience in space, such as biology and materials science. Results from a dozen science missions testify to the value of the Shuttle and Spacelab for manned space science, from experiments that extend current knowledge to bold investigations that attempt what is impossible on Earth.

The great variety of experiments flown in Spacelab and other Shuttle attached payloads is impressive. More significant, however, is the tangible gain from space science research. Scientists in fields as different as astronomy, biology, and crystallography are reporting major discoveries from their investigations in space. Furthermore, they are learning how to pursue scientific research in the unfamiliar space environment, refining their experiment techniques and instruments to push the bounds of knowledge ever farther. As data from the "first generation" of science missions in the Shuttle era are being understood, scientists are moving ahead into the next phase of research.

The story of Spacelab and other Shuttle attached payloads is one of opportunity and discovery. This report presents a summary of results to date from many of the scientific investigations conducted aboard the Shuttle. These results are the prelude to the next phase of Shuttle/Spacelab research activity and ultimately to manned space science in the Space Station era.

 

The Shuttle/Spacelab Opportunity:

Before the Space Shuttle and Spacelab came into service, most scientific research in space was conducted via automated instruments on rockets and satellites. There are several limitations in using these unmanned vehicles for science: there is no possibility of direct "hands on" interaction with an experiment, either for operations or for equipment repair, except by remotely controlled computer commands; the rockets offer only a few minutes in space for very small payloads; the satellite-borne instruments can operate for a long time but cannot be recovered for calibration, analysis, or refurbishment. While satellites are useful for long-term observations at distances far from Earth and rockets are useful for short forays into weightlessness, both methods are unsuitable for laboratory science as it is practiced on the ground.

In 1973, the United States launched its first orbital laboratory, Skylab, which was occupied three times for periods of 1 to 3 months. Skylab pioneered the way for manned space science. It was designed for simultaneous research in several disciplines, and its crews included a new breed of scientist-astronauts, selected for their abilities in scientific research. The payload included experiments in solar and stellar astronomy, Earth observations, materials processing, technology, and life sciences.

From the Skylab missions, scientists learned much about doing research in the unfamiliar environment of space. Because the discoveries and data acquired were far greater than anticipated, many new scientific questions were raised. Unfortunately, the program ended after only three manned missions, before many of the new questions could be answered. During the decade-long hiatus in manned space science before the first Spacelab mission, investigators built upon the....

 


Spacelab converts the Shuttle payload bay into a laboratory.

Spacelab converts the Shuttle payload bay into a laboratory.

 

[3] ....Skylab experience to develop experiments and equipment for flights on the Shuttle.

The Shuttle/Spacelab combination offers an alternative to the limitations of unmanned spacecraft and an exciting variation on the Skylab concept. By permitting scientists to serve as crewmembers (payload and mission specialists) and by providing various experiment accommodations, as in the Skylab era, NASA has merged science with manned spaceflight. Interactive, "hands on" involvement is again possible as the crewmembers perform experiments, monitor and respond to results, and repair equipment when necessary.

With access to space via the Shuttle, scientists hope to accelerate the pace of research. Instruments can be carried into space for 7 to 10 days, returned, modified and refined, and reflown on another mission. Reflight allows investigators to use what they have learned from one mission to plan the next. Furthermore, scientists can now concentrate on what they do best - developing and perfecting investigations - without also having to build a spacecraft to carry them.

 

Science Missions:

Half of the 24 Shuttle flights from 1981 into 1986 carried major scientific payloads, 4 of them Spacelabs, with more than 200 investigations. The early science missions were named after the NASA office that sponsored the payload (such as the Office of Space Science/OSS) and often carried a payload with varied experiments that tested the Shuttle's capabilities for doing space science. While not all Shuttle missions have been dedicated to science, scientific experiments have been done on almost every mission.

Experiments have been successfully conducted in disciplines as diverse as life sciences, materials processing, fluid mechanics, solar-terrestrial physics, astronomy and astrophysics, atmospheric science, Earth observations, and basic technology. Early results from these missions suggest that the spectrum of possibilities for scientific research in space is virtually unlimited.

During most of these missions, experiment progress was monitored instantaneously, in "real time," by audio and video communications with the onboard crew and by data transmitted to the ground. Scientists on the....

 

The Shuttle and Spacelab offer advantages for space science:

 


The Spacelab complement of carriers may be combined in various configurations to accomodate different payloads.

The Spacelab complement of carriers may be combined in various configurations to accommodate different payloads.

 

[4] ....ground were able to begin immediate analysis of the data from space, and they participated actively in conducting their experiments. It was not uncommon to hear cheers and applause in the Payload Operations Control Center as results came streaming in with hints of discovery.

For a week or more, excitement built as teams of scientists and mission support personnel on the ground worked with the orbiter crew to take advantage of the unique research opportunities in space. The onboard specialists concentrated on getting the maximum yield from every precious minute. By the end of a mission, miles of videotape, dozens of samples, hundreds of photographs, and millions upon millions of bits of data were accumulated for study.

On the Shuttle and Spacelab, scientific research has even greater immediacy and intensity than that experienced in a laboratory on the ground. If an experiment does not proceed as anticipated, scientists can intervene, change procedures, adjust equipment, and respond to the situation at hand. This capability, not available since the Skylab era, gives us a new chance to make discoveries that are beyond our reach on Earth.

Many scientists have invested a large part of their careers in developing experiments for flight. After flight, they reap the rewards of a well-deserved period of analysis to glean new understanding from the mass of data acquired on their mission. With expectancy, painstaking study, occasional disappointment, and eventual revelation, they are using space as the ultimate laboratory and observatory.

This report summarizes some of the significant results from Spacelab and other science missions on the Shuttle during its first 5 years in service. To create a coherent picture, the results are discussed by discipline rather than by mission; thus, an investigation may be seen in the context of similar or related investigations for a clearer sense of the aims and accomplishments in each research field.

These results herald the advances that are expected when scientists resume experiments on the Space Shuttle and later attain a permanent presence in space on the Space Station.

 


During missions, scientists monitor data and control instruments from the Payload Operations Control Center.

During missions, scientists monitor data and control instruments from the Payload Operations Control Center.

 


Spacelab 1 was staffed by the first payload specialists scientists on leave from their laboratories to do research in space. During the IV-day mission, two payload specialists and two mission specialists accomplished more than 70 experiments in 7 disciplines.

Spacelab 1 was staffed by the first payload specialists scientists on leave from their laboratories to do research in space. During the IV-day mission, two payload specialists and two mission specialists accomplished more than 70 experiments in 7 disciplines.

 


The Spacelab 1 mission included experiments inside a laboratory module and on a platform exposed to space.

spacelab mission patch

The Spacelab 1 mission included experiments inside a laboratory module and on a platform exposed to space. The Spacelab 3 mission also used 2 module as its main component.


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Spacelab 3 mission patch

During the Spacelab 3 mission, a payload specialist repaired a research facility in time to complete fluid physics experiments successfully. Meanwhile fellow crewmembers carried out crystal growth and life science experiments.

During the Spacelab 3 mission, a payload specialist repaired a research facility in time to complete fluid physics experiments successfully. Meanwhile fellow crewmembers carried out crystal growth and life science experiments.

 

Spacelab and Other Major Science Payloads on the Shuttle

.

Payload

Flight

Date

.

Office of Space & Terrestrial Applications-1 (OSTA-1)

STS-2

Nov. 12-14, 1981

Office of Space Science- 1 (OSS- 1)

STS-3

Mar. 22-30, 1982

OSTA-2

STS-7

Jun. 18-24, 1983

Materials Experiment Assembly-A 1 (MEA-A1

MAUS

Spacelab 1

STS-9

Nov. 28-Dec. 8, 1983

Office of Aeronautics & Space Technology- 1 (OAST- 1)

41-D

Aug. 30-Sep. 5, 1984

OSTA-3

41-G

Oct. 5 - 13, 1984

Spacelab 3

51-B

Apr. 29-May 6, 1985

Spartan 1

51-G

Jun. 17-24, 1985

Spacelab 2

51-F

Jul. 29-Aug. 6, 1985

Spacelab D1

61-A

Oct. 30-Nov. 6, 1985

Materials Experiment Assembly-A2 (MEA-A2)

EASE/ACCESS

61-B

Nov. 26-Dec. 3, 1985

Materials Science Laboratory-2 (MSL-2)

61-C

Jan. 12-18, 1986

Goddard Hitchhiker- 1 (HH-G 1)

.

Middeck experiments, student experiments, Get-Away-Specials, and Detailed Supplementary Objectives are not included in this list, but they have contributed to the body of scientific data and have stimulated ideas and tested equipment and techniques for expanded investigations.


Spacelab 2 was operated like a ground-based observatory with scientists on the ground monitoring solar activity and sending observing plans to the crew. Crewmembers receiver teleprinter . messages describing the solar viewing agenda for each orbit.

Spacelab 2 was operated like a ground-based observatory with scientists on the ground monitoring solar activity and sending observing plans to the crew. Crewmembers receiver teleprinter . messages describing the solar viewing agenda for each orbit.


The Spacelab 2 mission used three platforms covered with scientific instruments to form a solar and astronomical observatory.

Spacelab 2 mission patch

The Spacelab 2 mission used three platforms covered with scientific instruments to form a solar and astronomical observatory.
 
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