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STS-107 Spacehab Payload
 
Question and Answer Board

Aren from Vermont
Did you have to take the payloads out of Columbia after the summer launch delay?
That's a great question, because we actually went to a five month delay for the mission. Because we were tested and ready to go to the pad, and then we found out about the problems with the flow liner cracks, and so we got into that delay. What we did, we went to the experiment teams, and said, "Can we keep these experiments in the module, in place?" Because we'd done so much testing already, we didn't want to break all those interfaces and cause any problems. And they said "Yes, if we do some minor testing about every 30 days or so, once a month, we should be able to keep the experiments healthy and working right." So we set up a routine of how we would do that. They gave us inputs into what we needed to do, and so we followed through on those kind of experiment health checks that we did, powering up the experiments, and then we also found out we had to power up the module occasionally to make sure that all the subsystems in the module were staying healthy and there weren't any problems there. So we'd work through all that on about a 30-day interval, and then finally we got back to the point that we were ready again to move to the pad. And we moved out in December to the VAB to go be integrated with the external tank and the solid rocket boosters. So, that's how we did it.
Rich from Elk Grove, Illinois
With all of the experiments that will be done on the SpaceHab, what is the process of scheduling what gets done first and how is time assigned to each experiment? If there is a problem with one of the experiments what is the process of 'calling that experiment done' and going on to the next one?
There's a group that does the flight timeline, and that's at JSC (Johnson Space Center), and that group works with the experimenters. They take the experimenters' requirements that they have, of what they want to do with the experiments during the mission, and then they work through, interweaving what's going on with all the different experiments, and assigning the crew members' time to that work that needs the crew member involved with. The great thing about this mission is, because we have the ability to uplink commands to the experiments from the ground, and put data real-time down to the ground, we're able to let the experimenters also do work with the experiments while the flight crew doesn't have to physically be touching or working with the experiment. So the timeline is very key. Again, we have two teams of astronauts - we have a Red Team and a Blue Team - that are working on the experiments 24 hours a day. And then the experiment team is there 24 hours a day, helping them work through what they're doing in the timeline.

Host: And the second part of his question is: If there is a problem with one of the experiments what is the process of 'calling that experiment done' and going on to the next one?
Expert: Well, again, we have a bonus here in the sense that we have an experiment team on the ground that's very familiar with the experiment and all the testing and the work that's been done. So they spend their time, if there's a problem coming up, they go off and troubleshoot and develop a plan of how they would maybe get that experiment back to working right, or if there were some conclusions that they wanted additionally, they would feed those up to the crew members, and let them know that. Meanwhile, the crew members have sort of a backup plan of if something goes wrong with this experiment, they can go over and start working on another experiment. And so their time, then, can be focused on that, and they don't lose time in the whole process. And so consequently, we have the experiment team working together with the crew to take care of the problems, plus the crew has backup scenarios and operations that they can go do, that will help the experiments be even more successful. So that's how they work it.
Host: Can you give us an idea of how many different experiments there are on the module?
Expert: Right now, there's probably approximately 40 experiments on the SPACEHAB module. But there are a whole bunch of different sub phases of each one of those experiments, that's coming from that. So in other words, like investigations that they're doing, even with one experiment there may be multiple investigations they're using that one experiment for. So it's really kind of hard to put a number down there, because it is so intense, with science and everything. But the reality is, about 40 is the approximate number that's in the module, and in there working all these sub phases of each experiment. And that's a key to how it works for that 16-day mission.
Elliot from Pasadena
What is the difference between a single module and a double module? Obviously the dimensions of the shuttle cargo bay can't change, so do you just put twice as many experiments into it?
Well, the double module is actually like two single modules brought together with a common bulkhead that lets the people work between the two modules. For this one, the aft module is actually a brand new module which has been recently designed and developed because it has a new interface with the orbiter uplink/downlink system that allows this commanding both from the ground or for data to flow real-time down to the experimenters. So the double module is twice the size, and it does have twice the capability of housing experiments. And of course, now it has the ability for the commanding, both from the ground and the data to be real-time downstream to the experimenters. So that's one of the great new differences here.

Host: Are there any other capabilities that are added to the double module besides, like you said, the size and the uplink capability? Are there any others?
Expert: Just the experiment uplink and downlink capability. The general module itself has basically the same capabilities: supplying water, electrical power, vacuum, the necessary gases and so forth to the experiments.
James from Cananduagia, New York
There is no EVA on this flight, so what will the spacesuits be used for? If the cargo bay doors don't close like they should?
If they have a problem, what they're going to do is they're going to have to go out, the problem essentially with like the Ku antenna. It's deployed outside the payload bay envelope, and if it wouldn't redeploy itself down into the bay, they would have to go out on an EVA and pull that antenna back down and out of the way. Plus if the doors wouldn't be closing by their automatic mechanisms, the crew has the ability to go out there and essentially mechanically crank the doors closed. And that's really what the EVA suits are there for. For those contingencies. And the FREESTAR, again, it's its own autonomous payload element and it's run from the aft flight deck and there's no outside EVA needed to work those experiments.
Sam from Utica
Were the rats raised in conditions similar to what they will experience while in space? Will their surroundings look the same, even though there will be no gravity?
That's a great question! Yes, we condition the rats ahead of time, or any of the specimens that are onboard the SPACEHAB, to their environment a couple of weeks before we actually put them in the module. And we're actually, right now, two days before launch, installing the specimens into the module. So they go through a period of time where they are conditioned so that they won't be disoriented or anything when they get on orbit. We want to really capture how they respond to the zero-G situation. And that's part of the experiment.

Host: Now, I've got a question here. How are the rats fed? Is there some kind of autonomous system, or is the crew responsible for feeding them? Do they have to take some time out of their day to do that?
Expert: That's a good question, because they do have an automatic system that allows them to feed and provide water to the animals. And that's an important part of keeping them alive. Because we want to keep them alive not only when they're up in orbit, but as soon as they land, we're going to pull them out of the module within about four hours after landing, and take them off to labs, and they go through a screening process, sort of a post-mission evaluation of what their health is and how they're responding to being back on Earth.
Host: Would there be an issue with the de-stow of this payload if we were to land at an alternate site?
Expert: Not really. We've got a set of team members also set up at our contingency landing site, and they are able to take them out. And we actually have a jet aircraft available during the entire mission and if it did land at an alternate site, we would get those specimens back here to KSC and to the laboratories, where they could do a post-mission evaluation. The timing is critical.
Blake from Los Angeles, California
How many times has a Spacehab module flown on the shuttle?
It's flown 15 times, 15 different missions. Seven of those missions were the single module, in the early years. And some of them are even coming up; there's two more missions after this mission that are single modules that are going to the International Space Station. And the double module flew eight times, and that was to the Mir Space Station, taking up water, supplies, experiments, crew members, etc. And then that was not only to the Mir mission, but there were three of those missions of the eight that flew to the International Space Station in the early years of getting the Station built up and supplying it with equipment.

Host: Are there any future missions for the double module?
Expert: Right now, there is nothing on the manifest for the double module. The capability is there, and there's been some talk about possibly manifesting another mission.
Pierre from Denton, Texas
How does the astronaut crew get from the shuttle crew quarters into the Spacehab module?
Again, it's through a tunnel. Some of the filming we had in the early part of the segment showed the astronauts. They go from the mid-deck area in through a tunnel, this tunnel is about three and a half feet in diameter, and they egress, it's about 12 feet long, and they move along that tunnel, it's got lights in it, and they move along that tunnel, right into the module. So the module's kind of sitting back there, its own laboratory, and again, when one team of crew members are sleeping, the other crew members will probably spend almost all of their time back there in the module, working, and exercising, and eating, and doing the things they need to do, so the other crew will be rested and not disturbed.
Jason from Austin
When did the first Spacehab module fly?
It flew in 1993, I think it was July that I mentioned and it was a brand-new concept of expanding the mid-deck area for experiments. It was largely successful and was really touted as being a great commercial payload type of place to put commercial payloads. And the double module grew from that. So it was a success over time.
Host: That's all the questions we have, but I have another one for myself. Once we're done with this 107 mission, what happens next to the experiments? Can you give us like a little run-down of what the follow-on activities are?
Expert: Yes, the experiments, they will, like I mentioned before, they will go back to laboratories, and they will be analyzed, and evaluated. And the data will really be crunched at that time. What comes out of it. For some of the atmospheric studies, there is going to be an enormous look at how the data from these experiments compare to data of previous flights. Because a lot of these atmospheric payloads have flown even back in the 1993 and before time frame. Ozone studies, solar constant studies, that type of thing. So there's a lot of work that goes on post-mission to break this experiment data down for usable uses. One of the experiments that a lot of people find interesting on the SPACEHAB module is a combustion module where they're looking at how different combustible fuels burn, and the characteristics of that burning. And they see that better in space than they can here on the ground because it's in a vacuum and they get a better profile. So they're going to use that for engine design and engine combustion analysis to help car makers and the aircraft manufacturers and all sorts of people use that data to be able to practically and maybe improve how we burn fuels and make them combust more completely.
Host: So, how soon do you think we can get some results from these experiments, typically? Are we talking months, years?
Expert: Usually it takes a few months to start seeing things roll out from these experiments. because the experimenters have been so busy getting ready for the mission and supporting the mission that the post analysis takes a little bit of time. A couple of months. But, you know, sometimes that draws out for maybe a couple of years before you see some real data coming back from some of the more involved experiments.
 
 
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center