Marshall Space Flight Center: Living and Working in Earth Orbit

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Living and Working in Earth Orbit

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is laying the groundwork for NASA's exploration missions to travel beyond Earth orbit to other worlds. With the end of the Space Shuttle Program and start of the Space Launch System Program, NASA has transitioned to a new, advanced generation of hardy launch and flight vehicles. The knowledge gained during 30 years of shuttle performance has provided a legacy of great advancements and new technologies which form a solid foundation for launching future missions of exploration and scientific discovery.

Space Shuttle: 30 Years of Accomplishments

External Tank rollout The Marshall Space Flight Center was a vital player during the more than 30 years of the Space Shuttle Program. The center was responsible for designing, developing and testing space shuttle propulsion elements and also had a vital role in the development of the launch vehicle system. Of the principal shuttle elements -- the orbiter, space shuttle main engines, external tank and reusable solid rocket boosters with their solid rocket motors -- all but the orbiter were developed under Marshall Center management.

The three high-performing main engines, along with the solid rocket boosters, provided more than 7.8 million pounds of thrust to lift the space shuttle to orbit.

Developing and Improving Shuttle Propulsion
During the 30-year shuttle program, each propulsion element was upgraded for improved performance, reliability and safety in a relentless pursuit of improvement. Thousands of advances in technology and enhanced designs were applied, making the shuttle safer, more powerful and more reliable. From the beginning, Marshall engineers understood that improving performance and reducing vehicle weight would allow the shuttle to deliver heavier payloads more quickly and at reduced costs.

Marshall also supported many other efforts in shuttle systems engineering and analysis. The center's technical competence proved valuable to the overall shuttle development program, including its expertise in materials science; thermal engineering; structural dynamics; aerodynamics; guidance and navigation; orbital mechanics; systems testing and systems integration.

In a message to Marshall employees following the STS-135 landing July 21, 2011, Marshall Center Director Robert Lightfoot said, "Indeed, we stand on the shoulders of giants from Apollo. But as I look back from the vantage point of STS-135, the last flight of the Space Transportation System, I realize that I walked every day among giants at Marshall. Generations for years to come will stand on your shoulders as they reach for the next step in our mission to explore space."

Marshall's Role in the International Space Station

The Cupola of the International Space Station, backdropped against Earth.With construction now complete and science briskly being conducted on a daily basis, the International Space Station proudly serves as the world's sole international research platform in space. There, nations work together to advance exploration and science; sustain -- and study new solutions to expand -- a human presence in space; and prepare for future exploration missions.

Marshall played a critical part in completing the International Space Station and continues to manage station science operations -- helping to sustain America's leadership role in the global partnership. The center managed the development and integration of connecting "nodes" that enable large structures such as habitation and laboratory modules to be attached. Marshall also integrates experiments into rack systems such as the Materials Science Research Rack, and manages the logistics modules that transport experiments to the station.

Experiments are managed through the Payload Operations Center at Marshall. The operations center coordinates all U.S. scientific and commercial experiments on the station, synchronizes payload activities of international partners and directs communications between researchers around the world and their onboard experiments.

The space station’s primary role remains scientific research, and as NASA prepares to expand its scope of work to human journeys beyond Earth orbit, the station will serve as an increasingly vital testbed for living and working in space. Marshall is designing, constructing and testing critical life support systems for crews in space. The center developed the Wastewater Recovery System, which recycles waste water into usable water, and the Oxygen Generation System, which provides oxygen for breathing air for the crew, reducing the need for costly resupply to the space station.

Advancements in life-support technology will become increasingly important as NASA pursues missions to other worlds and destinations across the solar system. Today, Marshall engineers are exploring how key aspects of the station's Environmental Control and Life Support Systems waste water processor technology might work for humans living on the moon.

Other Resources

This rendering depicts a concept for a new Research and Development Administration Building to be constructed at the Michoud Assembly Facility.Michoud Assembly Facility
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MISSE-3 Passive Experiment Container, or PEC.Space Station Science
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International Space StationInternational Space Station
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Astronaut imageMission Operations Laboratory
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Page Last Updated: January 25th, 2016
Page Editor: Brooke Boen