The Microgravity Science Laboratory Mission - 1, bridging the gap between today’s Spacelab and tomorrow’s International Space Station, is under way after a smooth launch at 1:02 p.m. CDT today. Originally scheduled to launch at 1:37 p.m., the launch time was moved forward earlier this week to avoid possible summer afternoon thunderstorms.
STS-94 marks the reflight of the Microgravity Science Laboratory mission which was cut short in April because of a problem with one of the Shuttle’s three fuel cells. “We are ready,” said Teresa Vanhooser, mission manager at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “The science teams got just enough during the first flight to whet their appetites, and we are looking forward to the complete 16 days of the STS-94 mission.”
The reflight offers science teams an advantage. “We were ahead on the score board but got rained out after the second inning,” said Mission Scientist Dr. Mike Robinson. “We know these experiments work, but that’s as far as we got. It’s now time to finish the job, to complete the data.”
After reaching an altitude of 160 nautical miles above Earth, where Space Shuttle Columbia will orbit for the next 16 days, members of the crew began work immediately to set up the Spacelab. A versatile research laboratory inside the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle, the Spacelab will serve as the astronauts’ workspace for the next two-plus weeks.
Payload Commander Dr. Janice Voss and Payload Specialist Dr. Roger Crouch floated into the Spacelab late this afternoon and began preparing to activate the 33 microgravity science experiments carried aboard the orbiter.
For Crouch, the first order of business was to set up the Combustion Module and the EXPRESS rack. The Combustion Module will be used to conduct two experiments during the mission -- a study of the properties of soot and a flame ball investigation.
Combustion is an important energy-producing process. Furnaces for processing materials, home heating, gasoline-powered engines and gas turbine-generated power all rely on combustion. Findings from these investigations conducted in the Combustion Module will provide researchers with a better understanding of the combustion process and may lead to improvements in combustion engines, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing emissions. Results may also lead to improvements in fire safety, benefiting mining, chemical manufacturing and aerospace industries.
A new, key component on the Microgravity Science Laboratory mission is the innovative EXPRESS Rack, which stands for “EXpedite the Processing of Experiments to the Space Station.” It is designed for quick and easy installation of hardware and experiments on Space Station. Aboard Columbia, the EXPRESS Rack replaces a Spacelab double rack and houses two experiments -- the Physics of Hard Spheres Experiment and the Astro/Plant Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus experiment. These studies will check the design, development and adaptation of the EXPRESS Rack hardware.
Over the next 12 hours, working with science teams on the ground at Marshall, crew members will continue to prepare the Spacelab and begin initiating experiments.
Voss will activate the High-Packed Digital Television system to give scientists on Earth the ability to view multiple channels of live video from the Spacelab. This technology allows scientists on the ground to monitor their experiments, change parameters and improve the quality and quantity of scientific information gathered during the mission.
The Protein Crystal Growth experiments will be activated overnight. Proteins are essential components of all living cells and serve many different functions. The weightlessness environment of the Spacelab allows scientists to grow near-perfect crystals, necessary to determine the exact structure and function of a protein. On Earth, gravity henders the formation of perfect crystals. Knowledge from these studies may lead to the development of more effective drugs to treat diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and AIDS.
Voss will begin activation of four microgravity measurement systems to measure slight yet unavoidable disturbances in the microgravity environment of the Spacelab. Science teams rely on this information -- downlinked in near-real-time -- to determine the effect of the disturbances on experiments.
Crouch will configure the TEMPUS facility for operations. This electromagnetic containerless processing facility will be used to study the undercooling and rapid solidification of metals and alloys. Undercooling occurs when a solid is melted into a liquid then cooled below its normal freezing point without solidifying. “When a metal or alloy is solidified, it occurs very rapidly, forming new types of materials we cannot manufacture or study in any other way,” said Dr. Jan Rogers, TEMPUS project scientist with Marshall Space Flight Center.
Later, Voss and Crouch will hand over science operations to Mission Specialist Dr. Donald Thomas and Payload Specialist Dr. Gregory Linteris.
The Large Isothermal Furnace will be activated overnight. This facility will be used to study the diffusion of liquid metals -- the process by which liquid metals mix without stirring -- similar to how a drop of food coloring disperses in a glass of water. This process cannot be adequately studied on Earth because of fluid movement caused by gravity.
The next scheduled Public Affairs status report will be issued at approximately 6 a.m., July 2.
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