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Raillan Young and Joy Norris, Space Station Payloads Team
A hexagonal module can be seen in the shuttle's cargo bay

STS-118 will carry payloads to the space station in a SPACEHAB cargo module, as seen near the middle of the shuttle’s payload bay in this image from the STS-116 mission. Image Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

When it comes to preparing for a trip, some people just know how to pack. They fold and stack items to survive the trip safely. They organize those items to make the most of a confined space. They even arrange the luggage to take up the least possible space. In the hands of a master, packing is practically an art.

Raillan Young knows how to pack. In fact, a key part of his job is packing cargo for trips that cover millions of miles.

Young is a NASA stowage payload integration manager, part of a large team that manages and prepares payloads bound for the International Space Station. "I'm responsible for making sure things get to the station in one piece," Young said.

Joy Norris is another member of that team. As a payload integration manager, or PIM, Norris is responsible for helping payload developers prepare their payloads for flight. The PIM team works with payload developers from the earliest stages of planning to the launch and on through the payload's time in orbit. "I'm basically their pathway into the NASA system. I am the payload developer's advocate throughout the process of preparing for flight," Norris explained. "The PIM is supposed to be more familiar with the payload than anyone else working in the ISS program, other than the payload developer themselves."

Space station payloads come from a variety of sources. Many are developed internally by organizations within NASA. Other payloads are the result of proposals from industry and academia. These payloads are developed by researchers who have had proposals selected to fly experiments in a space, or microgravity, environment. NASA also carries payloads to the station for the other nations that are involved in the space station program.

Astronauts in cleanroom suits inspect the SPACEHAB module

Members of the STS-118 crew take part in a hardware review of the SPACEHAB module that will fly on their mission. Image Credit: NASA

Payloads include everything from scientific experiments to new space station hardware to equipment that will be used by the crew. The team works not only with payloads that fly on the space shuttle, but also with U.S. payloads that fly on other spacecraft, such as the Russian Progress cargo vehicle. "Any vehicle that we can get on, we fly on," Young said.

Norris and Young said they have both been very involved in preparing payloads for the STS-118 mission of Endeavour, although they refer to the flight by its station assembly mission number, 13A.1. "We have a pretty large amount of hardware going up on that flight," Young said. "We have some educational payloads going up; we have some [European Space Agency] stuff going up."

Among the STS-118 payloads Norris has been working with is one developed by Oribitec, a company specializing in space-hardware development, and managed by the Teaching From Space office at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The payload includes two small collapsible plant growth chambers and the associated hardware needed to conduct a 20-day plant germination investigation. Another payload of 10 million basil seeds will also be launched on STS-118 and return on the same flight. These seeds will be distributed to educators and students across the country as part of an engineering design challenge. Although the growth chambers will be launched on STS-118, the investigation will be conducted on the space station by Expedition 15 crewmember Clay Anderson.

A close-up picture of a plastic bag containing the chambers and seeds

The plant growth chambers and seeds are prepared for flight aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Image Credit: NASA

Norris said that she has enjoyed working with the Teaching From Space office on the payload, which is one of the most ambitious that the education office has flown. "It's still a simple payload compared to most payloads we fly, but it's a more complex payload than what the education office has done before," she said. There have been some interesting requirements in certifying the payload for flight. For example, she said, since it involves seeds and fertilizers, the payload had to pass a biohazard safety review process.

"We've spent a lot of time on it, but it’s been challenging and fun," Norris said.

The education payload has also presented Norris an opportunity rare for payload integration managers. The process of planning, developing, certifying and then flying a payload is generally a lengthy one, often taking years to complete. As a result, one payload may be managed by a series of PIMs between the time it is proposed and the time it is actually used in flight. With the plant growth chamber, Norris will have worked with the payload from its earliest stages through its time on the station. "It's been fun to go from start to finish and then see it launch," she said. "I like to work with small payloads, and work with payload developers through the entire payload development, certification and approval process. Several PIMs have not had the opportunity to see a payload through until launch."

Once Norris has helped prepare the plant growth chamber to fly, Young and the stowage team will be responsible for managing how it will be packed for the trip. But overseeing packing is not all that team does. For example, Young said that he serves as a liaison between the payload team and the Astronaut Office. He works directly with the astronauts, providing them with information they will need when they get ready to use the payloads in orbit. He also helps the crew find ways to store things after they’ve used them. "The reality may be that you can squash them and bend them," he said.

Flags of space station partner nations can be seen on the ceiling of the payload control room

Young works closely with the Payload Operations Integration Center in Huntsville, Ala., to make sure the team members there have the information they need to help space station astronauts. Image Credit: NASA

Young also works closely with the Payload Operations Integration Center, or POIC, at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The POIC serves as a sort of "mission control" for scientific work performed on the station. While the team there is well versed in the operation of the experiments, they may never have seen them in person. Since Young sees every payload he works with before it launches, the POIC team sometimes calls upon his first-hand knowledge.

Coincidentally, Young and Norris both said their spouses were a major factor in why they are at Johnson Space Center.

Young and his wife married while he was earning his bachelor's degree in physics at Dillard University in New Orleans. They decided to live in Houston as a mid-point between his family in Fort Worth, Texas, and hers in Baton Rouge, La. He attended a job fair in Houston, and applied for a job with United Space Alliance supporting NASA.

Norris earned her degree in engineering and began working as a defense contractor in her native Huntsville, Ala. She became involved with NASA when she went to work for a contractor there developing shuttle hardware, a position she described as "an awesome, awesome job." She fell in love with spaceflight and later met her husband, an engineer at Marshall. He also works with payloads. Norris became a payload integration manager when her husband transferred to Johnson in 1999."

NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation's future by emphasizing three major education goals -- attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines; strengthening NASA and the nation's future workforce; and engaging Americans in NASA's mission. To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations and career ambitions of America's young people, NASA is focused on supporting formal and informal educators to engage and retain students in education efforts that encourage their pursuit of disciplines needed to achieve the Vision for Space Exploration.

Related Resources
STS-118 Shuttle Mission
NASA Space Shuttle Home Page
NASA International Space Station Home Page
International Space Station Payload Information Source   →
Kennedy Space Center -- Station Payloads
Payload Operations Center
NASA Office of Education Web Site   →
Space Garden Kit   →
Education Challenges
Vision for Space Exploration
Constellation Program
NASA Johnson Space Center
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David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services