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SPACEHAB Ready for Last Mission-STS 118


SPACEHAB Ready for Last Mission


SPACEHAB is preparing to close the hatch on its shuttle research and 
cargo carrier enterprise fourteen years after its first pressurized 
module flew into space on an orbiter while the company begins their 
strategic journey into space-based microgravity processing.

The company provided its first space-rated travel trailer of sorts to 
NASA in 1993. Later, the design would come in especially handy for 
missions to the Mir space station and during the construction and 
outfitting of the International Space Station.

Image right: A SPACEHAB module is loaded into a payload canister to be 
taken out to the launch pad where it will be loaded into the space 
shuttle Endeavour. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann


The single module bolted into Endeavour's cargo bay will continue that 
work by carrying some 5,800 pounds of equipment and supplies to the 
International Space Station, according to Don Moore, director of ground 
operations at the company's Cape Canaveral, Fla., facility.

"We're all sad that this is the last module mission," Moore said. "It's 
kind of hard to see that go away."

Pete Paceley, SPACEHAB Flight Services V.P. said, “but it is a 
transition flight for us and we’re excited about the demonstration tests 
for microgravity processing that we’re flying as well.”

NASA could still enlist a pressurized SPACEHAB module for a shuttle 
supply run in the future, but the flight manifest currently leaves that 
task to the Italian-built multi-purpose logistics modules.

The MPLMs are built to attach directly to the space station during a 
shuttle mission, but still come back with the orbiter. A module from 
SPACEHAB remains in the cargo bay during the entire flight.

For now, SPACEHAB is keeping its two modules certified for flight until 
the shuttles retire in 2010.

Since flying its first pressurized module in 1993 aboard STS-57, the 
company has claimed the mantle of a successful aerospace corporation by 
catering to researchers and others willing to pay to get their 
experiments into space and back aboard an orbiter.

SPACEHAB modules have ridden shuttles into orbit more than a dozen 
times.Image left: Space Shuttle Discovery recently carried a SPACEHAB 
module as part of its mission to resupply the International Space 
Station. The modules can hold spare parts, equipment and supplies, or 
can act as laboratories of their own, depending on the mission. Photo 
credit: NASA

Missions often left enough room for other paying research customers.

"Anybody that flew liked the ease that they could come in and work in 
our facilities," Moore said.

“Our future depends on our ability to leverage our unique capabilities, 
engineering expertise, and application of commercial processes for 
spaceflight processing,” Paceley said.

Among the hundreds of past experiments carried out aboard the modules 
include aerogel, the super-lightweight substance that became the 
centerpiece of the Stardust mission to gather particles from 
interstellar space.

He emphasized that the company could quickly fly an experiment again, 
too, something that NASA could not always do.

"We'd always find room for it," Moore said.

That approach is also fueling plans for corporate life after the shuttle 
retires. In addition to the utilization of the ISS for microgravity 
processing, the company is also working on a spacecraft that could ride 
atop expendable rockets and carry self-contained experiments or 
manufacturing elements into orbit.

But Moore's focus is on Endeavour's upcoming flight, and there is plenty 
to focus on.

Just packing the module takes considerable planning, especially 
considering that some of the bags have to be loaded while the module is 
on its back inside Endeavour at the launch pad.

Image right: Crew members for mission STS-118 familiarize themselves 
with the SPACEHAB module they will unload while at the International 
Space Station. The cargo module will be packed with equipment and 
supplies. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Moore said the loaders devise a complex choreography to get the 5,800 
pounds of gear on racks and stacked in bags exactly where the astronauts 
expect to find it.

"You get down to people's weight, who's going to go down first, who's 
going to go down second," he said.

The company uses mock-ups of the module to fine-tune the routine. 
Astronauts typically get some time in the actual module and the trainers 
to find out what they will see once they reach space.

In the case of STS-118, the crew can expect a tight fit in the module 
because of all the gear strapped to the walls. The good news is that 
what seems like a tight fit on Earth opens up significantly in space, 
where the lack of gravity lets astronauts float up to the module's 
window. Crew members can also tuck themselves into crevices and sleep 
inside the module.

As with all the missions that carry a SPACEHAB element, Moore will sit 
in the Launch Control Center at Kennedy Space Center during launch 
before heading to Mission Control at Johnson Space Center to oversee the 
module during the flight.

"Every launch is special," he said. "I think we're just going to be on 
the edge of our seats."

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