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Bringing Power to Columbus
12.06.07
 
When the space shuttle Atlantis begins its journey to the International Space Station in January, it will carry Columbus, the European Space Agency's research laboratory. Astronauts from Europe and the U.S. will perform three spacewalks to attach the lab to the station, and a NASA engineer from Cleveland will be ready and waiting to help them.

Portrait of Gregory SchmitzPortrait of Gregory Schmitz. Credit: NASA Gregory Schmitz is the Columbus Module Electrical Power System integration manager for the International Space Station. He has been involved in the design, development and implementation of the station's power system for nearly 20 years.

As the astronauts attach the lab to the space station, Schmitz will watch attentively from the Mission Evaluation Room at NASA's Johnson Space Center. If the astronauts have questions, Mission Control will call him and a team of station electrical experts for guidance.

For Schmitz, the STS-122 mission is the culmination of 2.5 years of effort. He has spent hundreds of hours since 2005 collaborating with German and Italian engineers. Together, they overcame distance and language barriers to ensure that the power distribution and loads on Columbus would be compatible with the space station's Electrical Power System.

"It's great to see an idea taken from the design stages to completion and then see it flying," Schmitz said. "It's truly a highlight of my career."

Schmitz has been managing portions of the space station's Electrical Power System since 1988 when he joined the staff at NASA's Glenn Research Center. Today, he leads Glenn's ISS Subsystem Management Team. He finds the station's intricate power system both challenging and exciting.

Image of Columbus moduleAn overhead crane hoisted Columbus out of its workstand and into a special canister for the trip out to the launch pad to be loaded aboard space shuttle Atlantis. Credit: NASA/George Shelton "It's much bigger and more powerful than a standard spacecraft power system," he said. "So it's quite a bit more complex because, in order to regulate all of that power, we need a lot more equipment."

This will be the first time Schmitz has worked at Johnson's Mission Control Center, but it won't be the first time he's seen one of his projects launch into space. When the first element of the Electrical Power System was deployed on the Z-1 truss in 2000, Schmitz and his team manned the NASA Glenn mission support center 24 hours a day for several days.

"That was exciting," Schmitz said. "We watched the output voltage come on at 20 volts, then go up to 90, then 121, then 124.5 volts...and ever since then it's been nice and steady. I'll never forget that experience."

He's looking forward to another unforgettable experience in Texas next month. Europe's largest contribution to the ISS, Columbus will double the station's research capacity, and Schmitz is proud to be a part of the team that's making it happen.

"At a lot of companies, engineers only get to work on one small part of a project. Here, I get to be part of the entire project from the cradle to the grave," he said. "To see Columbus up and operating will be a very satisfying experience."

 
 
Jan Wittry (SGT, Inc.)
NASA's Glenn Research Center