Tuesday, September 21, 2010

NASA JSC - ISS National Laboratory Office

The Space Station Training Facility, Here the astronauts and ground controllers practice working in space.

For the first half of my day today, I have learned about the work done in the ISS National Laboratory Office. They are part of the Space Station Payloads Office and provide research planning and manifesting support for other government agencies, private industry, and academic partners who want to do work on the Space Station. That sounds like a job I could enjoy. To show me around, I met up with my friend Justin.

My kindred spirits in the ISS Payloads Office. I am right next to Gonzo, get it?

This is my friend Justin. Can you tell I am excited about all the science done on the ISS?

Justin, tell me a couple of tasks you and your team have done?

"We have sponsored materials science investigations, vaccine research, cellular biology research, optical sensor technology demonstrators, and even free-flying modules that can navigate around the inside of the Station."

That sounds very impressive. I do like the idea of free-flying modules within the inside of the Station. That could be helpful if I ever get to visit the Station. "Taxi, take me to Kibo, please!"

Tell me, what will you be working on in the near future?

"In the near future, weíll be working with the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture, and numerous commercial partners to utilize the Space Station for terrestrial applications of their research."

So Justin and I visit the Space Station Training Facility in Building 5 so he can actually show me an example of the research he supports.
This is the training facility for the European Module, Columbus. To my left is a yellow cone.

SpaceDRUMS is a privately-developed research module that investigates how to create new materials in microgravity. They have the training hardware in the Columbus Training Facility so the astronauts can familiarize themselves with the equipment before they see it on-orbit. SpaceDRUMS is specifically designed so that it can be run from the ground. All the crew has to do is install the hardware, load up and exchange carousels with the seed materials, and monitor the equipment.

The SpaceDRUMS training hardware helps prepare the crew to support the materials research it does on orbit.

In the enclosure next door, we have the Kibo Training Facility. This is configured to show the crew an approximate layout of the Japanese Experiment Module and the size of its experiment airlock.

I get to sit in the Kibo Training Facility. (the only differences between this and the real Kibo are: no Camilla, no office chairs, no gravity = no problems)

This airlock is too small for people, but is designed to let scientists take samples in and out of the Space Station using a small robotic arm. It was just perfect for my slender size!
The Japanese airlock is too small for a person, but just right for me.
This is what the freezer racks look like. (I didn't want to ask more...)

After all of this, I really wanted to know more about Justin. As you can imagine, there are so many people working here at JSC and other NASA centers, how do they all become what they are? So I am doing some research on some of these very interesting friends of mine.

"Justin, you know how I came about. Let's talk about yourself for a moment and explain to me what your function is?"

"As for myself, I am the Implementation Lead for the ISS National Lab Office. For every cycle of the science planning process, I make sure that all of the NLO partnersí requirements for flying to the Station, conducting on-orbit operations, and closing out their objectives are captured and accounted for. I also help fulfill the Congressional mandate for education and outreach by providing planning support for educational initiatives on the Space Station, such as the Kids in Micro-g nationwide experiment competition, and developing NLOís presence in social media."

Doesn't that sound like a very complex and fun job? Now my curiosity is peaked. So I ask Justin "When did you know you wanted to do work in the field of Space Exploration?"

"I decided that I wanted to be an astronaut when I was three. Ever since then, the space program has been my deepest passion because I truly believe the settlement of the solar system is our next big step in the evolution of our civilization."

Wonderful! I hear that so often. Kids want to become an Astronaut and that's their dream. I love it. What kind of education do you have, Justin?

"I started college two years early through the Texas Academy of Math and Science, studied aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University, got a Masterís Degree in mechanical engineering at Rice University, and am now earning a second M.S. in Human Space Exploration Sciences at the University of Houston. I did three summer internships at Johnson Space Center while I was a student and came back after I finished my studies at Rice."

You pointed it out again;  Match and Science with Engineering. A very strong combo and that's why STEM is so important! Science, Technology, Engineering and Math! Tell me Justin, why did you choose this particular job?

"I took this job because I like putting things together to fit in the bigger picture and I wanted the opportunity to support on-going operations. On the Space Station, we are learning how to live and work in space for extended periods of time. These are the first baby steps out into the wider Universe just waiting for us."

Off to my next adventure here at JSC. I shall be back soon! 

This is real equipment and I was just about to touch buttons when Justin said "No touchy!"

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