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An Astronaut's Work
Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) astronauts perform many tasks as they orbit the Earth. The Space Shuttle is a versatile vehicle that provides facilities to perform science experiments, release and capture huge satellites and even assemble the ISS. However, the Space Shuttle was only designed to fly in space for about two and a half weeks at a time.

Astronauts Jerry Ross and James Newman work on the International Space Station
Image to left: Astronauts perform many tasks in space. Credit: NASA

The ISS, on the other hand, is designed to be a permanent orbiting research facility. Its major purpose is to perform world-class science and research that only the microgravity environment can provide. The ISS crew spends their day working on science experiments that require their input. They also monitor experiments that are controlled from the ground. These astronauts also take part in medical experiments to determine how well their bodies are adjusting to microgravity for long periods of time.

Working on the ISS also means maintaining the ISS. Crewmembers are constantly checking support systems, cleaning filters and updating computer equipment. Similarly, Mission Control, on Earth, constantly monitors the ISS. Mission Control sends messages each day through voice or e-mail to assist the crewmembers in their daily routine.

Astronauts use the Onboard Short-Term Plan (OSTP). It is a graph of the daily schedule on the ISS. It forms a timeline that shows what is happening and who is involved at any given time on the Space Station. Fitting all the astronauts' activities into the graph isn't always easy.

Many variables have to be considered when laying out the schedule. This includes times that the vehicle is in the dark or light and the various time zones for the ISS, for Mission Control in Houston, and in Russia.

Shuttle pilot Charlie Hobaugh works inside the International Space Station
Image to right: An astronaut at work. Credit: NASA

An astronaut's workday is from approximately 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time. This day includes three meals and 2.5 hours of physical exercise to maintain muscle tone and fitness.

Although Shuttle missions are shorter than Space Station expeditions, NASA astronauts live and work on the Shuttle for days at a time. The Space Shuttle delivers satellites to space that could broadcast communications or peer into the edge of the universe. Of course, the crew members carefully check all systems before finally releasing a satellite into Earth orbit.

Probably the most famous satellite released from the Space Shuttle's payload bay is the Hubble Space Telescope. The Shuttle has even returned to space with replacement parts for Hubble. Before the Hubble can be fitted with new parts, though, an astronaut must use the shuttle's robotic arm to capture the satellite and then maneuver it inside the payload bay where it can be secured. Then, space walkers venture into the payload bay, climb up the Hubble Space Telescope and install the new parts. After ground controllers are sure the Hubble Space Telescope is in good condition, the robotic arm grabs the satellite then releases it back into space.

Research that benefits our lives on Earth has been performed inside the Space Shuttle and Space Station. For instance, protein crystals grown in space provide researchers insights into stronger, safer medications here on Earth. Plants grown in space help scientists learn how to grow healthier stronger plants on Earth. Plant experiments also give researchers ideas of how to feed astronauts on long-term missions beyond low Earth orbit. Studies have also been performed on astronauts themselves, mostly in an effort to determine the effects of microgravity on human bone and tissue. Another benefit of space research is an anthrax-killing device. This device was developed from technology used to grow plants on the ISS.

Adapted from Space Work and NASAexplores, Let Me Check My Schedule
Screen capture of Space Station Science Interactive
Space Station Science
See a sample of ISS experiments.
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International Space Station
A Day on the ISS
Spend a typical day in space aboard the International Space Station.
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ISS and flags of countries participating
Look Inside the Space Station
Move your mouse to move through the Space Station.
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