Science steps up on International Space Station with new experiments, fresh crew to operate them

November 21, 2001

A new suite of experiments will be delivered to the International Space Station by Space Shuttle Endeavour later this month -- kicking off Expedition Four and broadening scientific research onboard the orbiting space laboratory.

Endeavour will carry the Raffaello logistics module - a "moving van" bearing new experiment equipment for the Space Station's Destiny laboratory. Raffaello was built by the Italian Space Agency and managed by the Flight Projects Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. It is making its second trip to the Station on the STS-108 Shuttle Flight. Raffaello successfully delivered many experiments to the Station last April on Space Shuttle Flight STS-100, ISS Flight 6A.

"Since our first payload reached the Space Station in September 2000, we have launched more than 4.6 tons (4,200 kilograms) of research hardware and experiments, and returned more than a thousand pounds (500 kilograms) of hardware, samples and other data to Earth," said John Uri, the Expedition Four science mission manager. Uri works at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, but his team members are stationed in NASA's Payload Operations Center at the Marshall Center - the Space Station command post for science operations.

"The laboratory has five research racks, and we have accomplished the goals of 28 research payloads, supporting 41 investigations from government, industry and academia in the United States, as well as Japan, Canada, Germany and Italy."

In addition to the experiments being delivered to the Station, Endeavour will carry four Shuttle-based science experiments on the Lightweight Multi-Purpose Experiment Support Structure Carrier - a platform that Marshall Center engineers designed to fit in the rear of the Shuttle behind Raffaello. STS-108 is the first flight of this new carrier.

"The combination of a talented design team and the close coordination among people at five NASA centers made it possible to get this new carrier ready for its maiden flight in less than a year," said Susan Spencer, a systems engineer in Marshall's Flight Projects Directorate. "This innovative modification of existing hardware will make it possible to fly additional, low-cost science payloads in the Shuttle, or deliver replacement parts quickly to the Space Station."

During Expedition Four, the suite of research instruments will grow from 18 to 26 U.S. payloads - seven of them new to the Space Station science program and several with multiple experiments.

"We are going to accomplish more science on Expedition Four than we attempted on any of the previous three expeditions," said Uri.

New experiments during Expedition Four are expected to lead to insights in bone disorder treatments, petroleum production, antibiotic production, cancer cell formation, plant growth, embryo development, biotechnology, and long-term effects of space flight on humans.

Research equipment for Expedition Four will be transported both on the STS-108 flight this month and on the STS-110 mission when Space Shuttle Atlantis visits the Station in March.

Twelve experiments, taking advantage of the low gravity created as the Station orbits Earth, are sponsored by the Marshall Center - NASA's Lead Center for Microgravity Research. Six of the 12 are sponsored and partially funded by industry through NASA's Space Product Development Program at Marshall, which works with 17 NASA Commercial Space Centers across the United States.

"We are increasing the scope and sophistication of the science we are doing on the Space Station by building on what we have learned during the earlier expeditions," said Uri. "This month marks nine months of continuous research and an extraordinary increase in research capabilities aboard the Station."

So far, nearly 500 hours of crew time have been dedicated to the research program on the Space Station, chalking up more than 50,000 hours of experiment run time. Many of the experiments are operated by controllers at the Payload Operations Center, which will be staffed this month with a fresh crew in charge of Expedition Four operations.

"The Marshall Center's experience working with three previous Space Station Expedition crews has helped prepare my team to implement NASA's ambitious research program for Expedition Four," said Tim Horvath, lead payload operations director, and head of the Expedition Four ground team at the Marshall Center.

"The diverse set of experiments slated for Expedition Four include intricate human-tended research, as well as automated and ground-controlled payloads. The flight controllers on our team interact with scientists around the world to choreograph the events required for successful research."

The three new Expedition Four crew members - astronauts Carl Walz and Dan Bursch and cosmonaut Yuri Onufrienko -- will devote about 300 hours to research during their stay on the Space Station. The ground team at the Marshall Center will plan, operate and monitor science operations for five months, until the new Expedition Five ground team takes over in May 2002.

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center News Center

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