Boeing Frontiers
September 2003
Volume 02, Issue 05
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Integrated Defense Systems


Stung by loss of Columbia, SPACEHAB team plans for future missions


KEEP LOOKING FORWARDLike many people, David Rary watched in horror as Space Shuttle Columbia broke into pieces over the United States on Feb. 1, 2003. But Rary and his co-workers lost more than heroes that day. They lost individuals who were their friends.

Rary, the payload support engineering manager for the Boeing Integrated Defense Systems SPACEHAB program, and his team worked closely with the crew during the mission. They re-planned the crew's daily schedule while they were in the SPACEHAB module and the orbiter middeck conducting experiments.

Despite their loss, Rary said it's important that the space program move forward. "So much is gained through the science and technology that is put into a mission like STS-107. We must continue to minimize the risk yet still push the envelope of space travel," he said.

And that's where the SPACEHAB program comes in.

As the primary contractor for SPACEHAB Inc.—an almost 20-year-old company that provides research and logistics carriers, or modules, used on a variety of space missions—Boeing has additional motivation to help NASA return to space. That's especially true for the roughly 140 Boeing IDS employees in Alabama and Florida working on the SPACEHAB program. During its 15-year contract with SPACEHAB Inc., Boeing has helped design the modules, process payloads, provide engineering services for the modules and train the crew on what to do while in the modules.

"As part of our contract with SPACEHAB Inc., we provide a unique service to NASA," Rary said. "In addition to designing the modules, integrating the cargo and training the crew, Boeing is responsible for everything that is done in the module during the mission."

The pressurized modules, connected to the shuttle mid-deck via a tunnel, are placed in the space shuttle cargo bay and may be used to conduct scientific experiments or to carry supplies to the International Space Station. Thus far, the modules have been involved in 16 missions.

The Boeing involvement begins in Huntsville, Ala., about 12 months before each mission. There, employees process the payload and cargo that go into the modules. Because of the precision needed for the simplest of chores in space, employees write very specific processes and procedures for the crew to follow when working in the module.

"We spend months preparing for the mission—determining the layout of cargo in the module, writing procedures for how to do things in the module, determining how things will move from the orbiter to the space station," said David Butler, a subsystem crew trainer. "Eventually, we will train our control team (the team of Boeing employees who go to Houston to support the mission) on what to do when on the mission control console."

KEEP LOOKING FORWARDAfter the IDS employees write processes and procedures, they begin training the crew on how to work in the module, basing instructions primarily on the purpose of the mission. Employees spent months training the crew of Columbia on how to conduct the 30-plus scientific experiments housed in the module and shuttle mid-deck. For logistic missions, which provide supplies or equipment to the ISS, the crew would be trained on how to move items from the orbiter into the space station.

The next step is for Boeing employees at the SPACEHAB Payload Processing Facility in Port Canaveral, Fla., to physically integrate the cargo into the module, essentially putting everything in its proper place in the module. Although the majority of integration typically begins about four months before a mission, the system is flexible enough to allow for new requirements or late changes in the manifest.

"Our team can accommodate extremely late cargo deliveries or late manifest changes while the module is in the orbiter at the launch pad," said A.J. McMahon, mission manager. "We're proud that we can support our customers in this way."

Once a shuttle is in orbit, Boeing employees communicate with the crew daily and monitor the mission around the clock to ensure procedures are followed and to support the crew's activities. In addition, Boeing employees monitor readings in the module to ensure its environment is stable. For the Columbia mission, Boeing employees worked closely with the crew to monitor the scientific experiments that were onboard.

While the loss of Columbia devastated NASA and the space industry as a whole, the SPACEHAB team suffered a unique loss and is remembering fallen friends and coworkers by working toward future flights. The Columbia mission was the first flight of the research double module, which was designed by IDS and full of new systems to support the mission research objectives. With the loss of the shuttle and the two modules comprising the research double module, two module segments remain for future logistic or research missions.

"We have a good product that we think has value to NASA," said Jack James, SPACEHAB program director. "We are looking forward to providing these services to NASA to support the International Space Station and as they plan for return to flight."

In fact, logistics single modules are scheduled to be included on two upcoming upcoming missions to carry supplies to the International Space Station. The modules will carry crew food, personal items and clothing, as well as several experiments.

"We recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of SPACEHAB's first flight, and throughout those missions we've remained committed to our original goals—to provide safe, efficient, responsive utilization in space," said 20-year Boeing employee and SPACEHAB veteran Mark Brewer. "These goals support our customer's needs and will continue to be our commitment."

But perhaps Program Director Jack James best summed it up.

"We're looking to achievements of the past, evaluating what's going on now, and beginning to plan for the future," he said. "Boeing is poised to move into the next phase of space exploration, and SPACEHAB is one element of this."


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