The Microgravity Science Laboratory-1 (MSL-1) Spacelab module that will be the primary payload aboard the Space Shuttle orbiter Columbia during the STS-94 mission will serve as a testbed for some of the hardware, facilities and procedures that will be used on the International Space Station. Columbia is scheduled to lift off on its 23rd flight from Launch Pad 39 at the beginning of a 2 1/2-hour launch window to enter an orbit of 184 statute miles and an inclination of 28.45 degrees to the Earth’s equator. The seven-member flight crew will also conduct combustion, protein crystal growth and materials processing experiments during the 16-day mission. Weather permitting, the orbiter will touch down at KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility to conclude the 85th Space Shuttle mission.
The STS-94 crew and payloads are the same that flew on STS-83, which lifted off from KSC on April 4, 1997. Mission managers later decided to cut this flight short due to indications of a faulty fuel cell. This was only the third time in the history of the Shuttle program that an orbiter was called home early due to a mechanical problem. Columbia landed at KSC April 8 after a mission-elapsed time of 3 days, 23 hours and 12 minutes.
Mission Commander James D. Halsell, Jr., (Lt. Col., USAF) is on his fourth space flight, having served as commander of STS-83 and pilot of both STS-74 and STS-65. He is a former SR-71 Blackbird test pilot and holds master’s degrees in management and space operations.
Pilot Susan L. Still (Lt. Cdr., USN)) became the second woman to fly in this capacity on a Space Shuttle on STS-83. She has more than 2,000 flight hours in 30 different types of aircraft and holds a master’s degree in aerospace engineering.
Payload Commander Janice Voss (Ph.D.) has flown on STS-83, STS-63 and STS-57. She holds a doctorate degree in aeronautics/astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has earned two NASA Space Flight Medals.
Mission Specialist Michael L. Gernhardt (Ph.D.) first flew in this capacity on STS-69 and again on STS-83. He has been a professional deep sea diver and engineer and holds a doctorate in bioengineering.
Mission Specialist Donald A. Thomas (Ph.D.) has flown on STS-83, STS-70 and STS-65. He holds a doctorate in materials science and has been the Principal Investigator for a Space Shuttle crystal growth experiment.
Payload Specialist Roger K. Crouch is the Chief Scientist of the NASA Microgravity Space and Applications Division and flew on STS-83. He has served as a Program Scientist for previous Spacelab microgravity missions and is an expert in semiconductor crystal growth.
Payload Specialist Gregory T. Linteris (Ph.D.) flew on STS-83 and holds a doctorate in mechanical and aerospace engineering. He has worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and is the Principal Investigator on a NASA microgravity combustion experiment.
During the STS-94 mission, the Spacelab module will become a real-world testing platform for some of the new hardware and procedures developed for the International Space Station. This hardware will be different from Spacelab experiment racks in nearly every way, from the way experiments are integrated (from the front instead of the rear of the racks so that experiments can be quickly changed out on orbit) to how they are processed before and after launch.
The new rack system, flying for the second time on this mission, is known as the Expedite the Processing of Experiments to Space Station (EXPRESS) Rack. It will take the place of a standard Spacelab double experiment rack. The EXPRESS rack and the prelaunch processing procedures for it are expected to significantly reduce the amount of time required for getting experiments into space.
Both the Physics of Hard Spheres Experiment (PHaSE) and the Astro/Plant Bioprocessing Apparatus (Astro/ PGBA) investigations will be conducted in the EXPRESS rack. The PHaSE experiment will study the fundamental physics of the transition from a liquid to solid state and back again. The Astro/PGBA) experiment will be located in Columbia’s middeck for launch and relocated by the crew to the EXPRESS rack once on orbit, just as experiments will be handled during International Space Station operations. The Astro/PGBA experiment will investigate how plants adapt to spaceflight. Data from this and similar experiments could possibly help scientists on Earth learn to manipulate plant growth on Earth to enhance commercial production.
In addition to conducting investigations for the International Space Station program, experiments aboard the MSL-1 Spacelab module will continue NASA’s microgravity research efforts to provide advances in the fields of materials science, protein crystal growth and physics.
Experiments conducted in Spacelab modules have accumulated considerable amounts of data that have led to advances in several fields. For example, results from investigations conducted during the STS-73/U.S. Microgravity Laboratory (USML-2) and STS-75/U.S. Microgravity Payload-3 (USMP-3) missions in 1996 are expected to help scientists develop better synthetic drugs, less expensive alloys and metal products, improved environmental cleanup methods, a better understanding of the Earth’s weather and climate and a greater knowledge of how blood clots in the human body.
Protein Crystal Growth -- Since proteins are essential elements of all living cells, the goal of NASA’s microgravity program is to further research in this area by producing protein crystals that are near-perfect and larger than those that can be grown on Earth. Such crystals are easier to analyze to determine just how they perform specific functions in the human body and plants. Gaining a better understanding of how proteins work helps scientists find out how new drugs will work on diseases and viruses, for example. Many large protein crystals have been successfully grown on Shuttle flights, including proteins that have never been crystallized on Earth. Three protein crystal growth experiments will fly on the MSL-1 mission, the Protein Crystal Growth Using the Protein Crystallization Apparatus for Microgravity (PCAM), the Protein Crystal Growth Using the Second Generation Vapor Diffusion Apparatus (VDA-2) and the Protein Crystal Growth Using the Hand-Held Diffusion Test Cells (HHDTCs) experiment.
Combustion Experiments -- Although the combustion process plays a key role in our lives and has been researched for more than a century, many of the fundamental combustion processes are still little understood. Two MSL-1 combustion experiments, Laminar Soot Processes (LSP) and the Structure of Flame Balls at Low-Lewis Number (SOFBALL), will be conducted in the Combustion Module-1 (CM-1). This unit requires two Spacelab racks and houses a combustion chamber and seven cameras, as well as the experiment package. The Droplet Combustion Experiment is designed to provide information that could lead to the safer and more efficient use of fossil fuels.
Materials Science -- During the MSL-1 mission, 19 materials science experiments will be conducted in four facilities aboard the Spacelab module. The experiments will investigate the materials in solid and fluid form, since materials often change from solids to fluids and back again during manufacturing processes. Five experiments will be conducted in the Large Isothermal Furnace (LIF) that can heat metal samples to 1,600 degrees Celsius to study the physics of materials processing. The Electromagnetic Containerless Processing Facility will use electromagnetic levitation for the containerless processing of metallic samples in ten experiments (TEMPUS). The Middeck Glovebox Facility supports five experiments to research physical theories of materials processing, including the Coarsening in Solid-Liquid Mixtures (CSLM) Facility furnace.
The High-Packed Digital Television (HI-PAC DTV) hardware will be flying on the MSL-1 mission to provide scientists in the Mission Operations Control Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center with real-time video of experiments as they are conducted in the Spacelab module. Other MSL-1 experiments include four to measure microgravity, the Cryogenic Flexible Diode (CRYOFD) Hitchhiker experiment mounted on the right-hand side of Columbia’s payload bay and the Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment-II (SAREX-II).
Columbia was moved to Orbiter Processing Facility 1 after landing at KSC following the STS-83 mission. Preparations soon began for the reflight of the orbiter and MSL-1 payload. Both fuels cell No. 1 and No. 2 were removed and replaced. The Spacelab module remained in the orbiter's payload bay during the reservicing process for STS-94, although the Spacelab tunnel was removed to provide better access to the MSL-1. This was the first time that a primary payload was reserviced in this manner, paving the way for possible quick turnaround processing for future flights. After final checkout, Columbia was scheduled to be rolled out to Launch Pad 39A on June 11th.