March 8, 2016
In November 2000, NASA began a run of 15 years of continuous human presence in orbit on the International Space Station. Four months later, on March 8, 2001, a team of people at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, began to leave their own mark on discovery by starting around-the-clock support of scientific activities on the orbiting laboratory from Marshall's Payload Operations Integration Center.
For 15 years, the payload operations center has been the science command post for the orbiting laboratory. Experts in disciplines including engineering, math, science, logistics, computer programming, and communications manage and monitor investigations on the space station around the clock, 365 days a year. Every day, they collaborate with astronauts and cosmonauts orbiting overhead and hundreds of scientists around the globe.
Image above: Three members of the original team who were on console when the Payload Operations Integration Center first began support of the station were photographed in March 2001. Through 15 years and a major modernization of the facility, they still work there -- from left, Payload Rack Officer Brian Little, Ground Training Integrator Ola Myszka, and Payload Rack Officer Aris Tanone. Image Credits: NASA/Fred Deaton.
"Time in space on the world’s most unique orbiting laboratory is precious,” said Chris Cianciola, manager for payload operations and integration in Marshall's Flight Programs and Partnerships Office. “Marshall’s team takes advantage of the latest technology and years of experience in space operations to squeeze the most science possible out of each and every space station experiment.”
Marshall has a long history of supporting science operations on both Skylab — America’s first space station and on the space shuttle and Spacelab missions lasting up to 2 weeks. For the space station, supporting science investigations became an all-day, everyday task. Planning that level of support and creating the control room to help run it all required a new way of thinking.
"We planned research for NASA's shuttle missions years in advance, but these missions were short," said Carmen Price, one of the first payload operations directors and now the payload operations manager in Marshall's Flight Programs and Partnerships Office. "To support space station science, we needed the same 24-hour-a-day support, but it had to be for 365 days a year — a lot longer than two weeks.”
To manage and schedule research, the team assigned investigations to a to six-month period designated as an expedition or increment. However, some research continues longer than six months and is scheduled over the course of many expeditions, while some investigations are only conducted while cargo vehicles are docked with the station. Breaking research into 6-month chunks and assigning people to support specific investigations and operations made it possible to conduct a variety of experiments from almost every scientific discipline with different research requirements and of varying lengths.
Today, space station research continues to accelerate. Research started on the station way before assembly was complete in 2011. In the early days, there were only about 40 investigations on board. As laboratories and research facilities were added, research increased. Today, the crew spends an average of 40 hours a week on station and conducts about 250 investigations every six months. In the last 15 years, the Marshall team has worked with 2,484 investigators and students from 83 countries to complete 1,765 investigations. When astronauts begin traveling to station on commercial crew vehicles in a few years, the amount of time dedicated to research on the station is expected to double.
International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA
This means more research and more work both before and during expeditions. The operations center's flight controllers not only help crew members conduct the experiments but even before an investigation is launched, they work with scientists and payload developers to design their experiments for efficient and successful operations. Once the research gets started on the station, controllers assist the crew, monitor all research facilities and even operate many while the space station crew is off duty or sleeping.
Many who have staffed those consoles in support of space station science have since moved on to other positions. But a few, including Indonesian native Aris Tanone, made a career of working with the space station crew.
In 1970, Tanone was in his first year at Gadjah Mada University in Yoyakarta, Indonesia, when he read an article about the space race and Wernher von Braun. At the time, it was just a dream to work in the space industry. Tanone made it a reality when -- 30 years later -- he joined the payload operations team at Marshall as a payload rack officer, or PRO, monitoring and configuring the resources for individual experiments from the ground.
"There is an Indonesian old saying, 'The mountain won't run away when you chase it,' which means, be patient in chasing your dream,” said Tanone. "My family thought I was throwing away a good career in computers and optics by chasing this dream. But how could I turn down the chance to be part of NASA history at the same facility Dr. von Braun helped create?"
In fact, the payload operations center where Tanone works is in a building used for Saturn V mission operations and later for space shuttle operations. Tanone achieved his dream and will end his career of supporting NASA when he retires at the end of March. Tanone and his co-workers can be proud that over 1,200 scientific results papers have been published on space station research and on supporting the completion of more than 400 experiments during astronaut Scott Kelly’s year in space on the space station. Discoveries cover a wide range of disciplines and include research that benefits both people on Earth and future explorers.
Space Station Live: Balancing a Year in Space
Video above: Flight controllers at the Payload Operations Integration Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, assisted astronaut Scott Kelly or his crewmates with more than 400 experiments conducted over the course of Kelly’s year in space on the International Space Station. Video Credit: NASA-TV.
For more information about the International Space Station (ISS), visit:
International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html
Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html
Payload Operations Integration Center: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/earthorbit/ops.html
Commercial crew vehicles: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/commercial/crew/index.html
Year in space: http://www.nasa.gov/content/one-year-crew
Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kristine Rainey.