Nav: Home

From tools to trash: Marshall's payload stowage team tracks it

February 27, 2017

For many of us spring cleaning is an annual ritual and it will be here before we know it. Imagine trying to keep everything organized year-round in a five-bedroom house where everything floats. And that house is moving 17,500 miles per hour orbiting the Earth 250 miles above us. That's exactly the job of a small team at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The Stowage Team in NASA's Payload Operations Integration Center at Marshall helps astronauts on the International Space Station stay organized. From tools to power cords and even trash, this team performs the choreography needed to track every item used for science experiments.

The team manages a database where each piece of equipment is kept and tracked by a barcode system much like in a grocery store. This database stores information such as the date, time and last person to use it.

"When an astronaut is looking for a piece of equipment and can't find it, we go to our database," said Allison Quesenbery, a member of the stowage team. "Every item is in there. Every time an item moves, we change it in the database, so we can help them locate it. The database is invaluable."

The team plans every move of every piece of payload equipment for the crew, from unpacking cargo to consolidating related items to putting things back in its place, all with the item's next use in mind, including trash disposal.

There are 12 members on the stowage team, but they can always use more help. All you need, according to them, is attention to detail.

There's even a trash expert.

"Trashing is the hardest thing," said Keri Baugher of the stowage team. "You'd be surprised at all the paperwork that goes into throwing something away. We not only have to track when new things arrive, we also have to track when and where they are disposed of."

When it comes to misplacing things, astronauts are no different, except that it's even easier to lose things because they can put something down for one minute while performing an experiment and turn around and find it has moved.

"We don't fault them for misplacing things," said Quesenbery. "They have a lot going on up there, so we are here on the ground to help. With so many items and so many stowage locations, it's nearly impossible for them to keep track of things all the time."

Quesenbery and Baugher agree the job is at times stressful, but it's also a fun challenge, a bit like a scavenger hunt.

"Sometimes we'll be watching live video from the station and just see something float by the camera. We then have to quickly get word to them that the item they've been searching for or we've been trying to locate just passed by," said Baugher.

Some things can take days or weeks to find. There's even a "lost in space" database, and the occasional "Wanted" poster, asking the crew to keep an eye out for important items that have floated away.

Because, while we know the item hasn't left the confines of the orbiting laboratory, it's impossible to pop down to the hardware store to pick up a replacement.
-end-


NASA/Johnson Space Center

Related Earth Articles:

How and when was carbon distributed in the Earth?
A magma ocean existing during the core formation is thought to have been highly depleted in carbon due to its high-siderophile (iron loving) behavior.
Deep-earth diamonds reveal primordial rock source in Earth's mantle
An analysis of helium isotopes locked inside 'super-deep' diamonds hundreds of kilometers below Earth's surface suggests that vast reservoirs of molten primordial source rock, perhaps nearly as old as the Earth, are present.
Why is the Earth's F/Cl ratio not chondritic?
It is generally believed that terrestrial planets were made from chondrites.
Building blocks of the Earth
Geologists from the Universities of Cologne and Bonn gain new insights regarding the Earth's composition by analysing meteorites.
Where is Earth's submoon?
Juna Kollmeier and Sean Raymond kicked off an internet firestorm late last year when they posted a draft of their article about submoons on a preprint server.
The threat of Centaurs for the Earth
Astrophysicists from the University of Vienna, in collaboration with Elizabeth A.
A wrench in Earth's engine
Researchers from CU Boulder report that they may have pinned down the cause of 'stagnant slabs,' which resemble a wrench in the engine of the planet.
Earth at risk of heading towards 'hothouse Earth' state
An international team of scientists has published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that even if the carbon emission reductions called for in the Paris Agreement are met, there is a risk of Earth entering what the scientists call 'hothouse Earth' conditions.
More clues that Earth-like exoplanets are indeed Earth-like
Researchers suggest that two Earth-like exoplanets (Kepler-186f and 62f) have very stable axial tilts, much like the Earth, making it likely that each has regular seasons and a stable climate.
Earth BioGenome Project aims to sequence DNA from all complex life on Earth
An international consortium of scientists is proposing what is arguably the most ambitious project in the history of biology: sequencing the DNA of all known eukaryotic species on Earth.
More Earth News and Earth Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab