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Manager Juggles 11.5 Tons of Hardware
10.27.06
Deborah Hahn's job can be a bit of a juggling act.

Hahn is a payload mission manager in the International Space Station/Spacecraft Processing Directorate at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. For each mission she manages, she directs the efforts of the mission processing team -- a group of multidisciplinary engineers and technicians who assemble and test station components and experiments that fly aboard the space shuttle. She handles multiple missions and elements at once.

"Our focus is to complete the station assembly," Hahn says, adding that increasing the station's infrastructure will in turn support more science research.

Payload Mission Manager Deborah Hahn in front of the P5 Integrated Truss SegmentImage right: Payload Mission Manager Deborah Hahn stands in front of the P5 Integrated Truss Segment set to fly aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-116. Credit: NASA

Hahn begins a typical day by updating station processing managers at Kennedy, followed by similar discussions with the station hardware office and the station program office, both located at Johnson Space Center in Houston. She also spends time each day in the high bay of Kennedy's Space Station Processing Facility, where employees prepare station elements for flight.

A second-generation Kennedy employee, Hahn grew up in nearby Titusville, Fla. Her family moved to the area when her father, Tom Schehl, began working at Kennedy during the Apollo era, in what was then called the Malfunction Analysis Lab. When she graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in engineering, he brought her a NASA job application.

Hahn began her NASA career in the Design Engineering Directorate, working with checkout systems. She transferred to the Payload Processing Directorate five years later and was promoted through several positions. Now in her second year as a payload mission manager, Hahn oversaw the preparation of the multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo that flew on Space Shuttle Atlantis during mission STS-121. She's also managing the European Columbus Laboratory Module set to launch on STS-122 next fall. Her attention is currently focused on her next mission, STS-116, set to launch in December to carry the P5 integrated truss segment to the station.

The P5 Integrated Truss Segment rests on a workstand.The P5 truss will connect the larger P3/P4 and P6 trusses on the station's backbone, which will eventually stretch more than 300 feet. The 11-foot-long segment has been at Kennedy since its arrival in July 2001 for final processing and checkout. The biggest change to the hardware since it was received at the center, Hahn says, is the addition of an external wireless instrumentation system.

Image left: The P5 truss rests on a workstand during flight preparations at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA

Along with the P5 truss, Discovery will carry a SPACEHAB single laboratory module and an integrated cargo carrier with an assortment of hardware. The payloads will be loaded into a large canister and transported to the launch pad. Once the elements are installed inside the awaiting payload bay, the team at Kennedy will check the connections between the payloads and the orbiter.

"After final inspection and closure of the payload bay doors, the team's job is pretty much done," Hahn explains. "It's nerve-wracking. You've built up this momentum, and suddenly you're just waiting."

Hahn watches launches from a support control room near the firing room. Since most station payloads aren't powered until they reach orbit, she simply monitors them during the countdown and the climb to space.

But the nail-biting doesn't end with a successful ride to orbit. The mission team then waits for on-orbit operations to begin, and follows the performance of the cargo.

"That's the beginning, when you get to actually realize the work that you've been completing," she says. "It's not until they get on orbit and they start putting it together or taking stowage out or whatever the actual operations are, and you go, 'Oh, finally. It's there!' "

Anna Heiney
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center