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




Sunrise or sunset as viewed from the shuttle in orbit


[v] We are participating in a tremendously exciting and intellectually rewarding endeavor - the merger of laboratory science and manned spaceflight in the adventure of manned space science.

NASA's history flows in two main streams of activity - science and manned spaceflight. These two streams ran in parallel throughout the 1960s, with the launch of many scientific satellites, on the one hand, and, on the other, the spaceflights that culminated in visits to the moon. The streams merged briefly in the Skylab missions of 1973-1974, our highly successful first experience in an orbital laboratory. Now, the Space Shuttle and Spacelab bring science and manned spaceflight together in a union that complements the scientific activities of unmanned satellites and sets the stage for manned space science in a permanent Space Station.

Science in the Shuttle era is a cooperative international venture. Scientists around the world participate together in planning, experiment development, mission operations, and resultant data analysis. A Spacelab mission is a multinational forum of investigator groups dedicated to acquiring new knowledge in a variety of science disciplines.

Doing science in the Shuttle and Spacelab is a different experience than having an instrument on a satellite; science becomes more "personal." Interaction between scientists on the ground and the onboard crew in conducting experiments adds a new dimension to a science mission. It transforms the mission from a focus on machines, electronics, and nameless bits of data to a human adventure. By monitoring the experiment data stream, talking to the crew, and watching live television from orbit, scientists on the ground virtually work side-by-side with their colleagues in space. This close interaction enables scientists on the ground or in space to respond to experiment results as they happen, adjust the experiment if appropriate, and maximize the scientific return. Manned space science is a very special bridge that transports the scientist on the ground to space in a way not possible by other research methods.

Shuttle/Spacelab science is thrilling for all of us who have the opportunity to participate. The emotional lift of the launch, the rush of activities during the mission, and the intensely personal collaboration with the onboard crew all combine into a unique experience, a high point in our careers. This exhilarating experience affirms the importance and success of cooperative international missions in manned space science.

In my early years as a scientist, I speculated that the next big step in our profession might be to take our research laboratories into space and do our work there. That is not just an appealing possibility; it is now a reality.


C.R Chappell
Associate Director for Science
Marshall Space Flight Center