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Behind the ScenesMeet the People

IMAGE: Elaine Flowers Duncan
Elaine Flowers Duncan is the project manager for the Spacelab Pallet in the Flight Projects Directorate, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Elaine Flowers Duncan,
Marshall Space Flight Center,
Huntsville, Ala.

Spacelab Pallet manager loved space as a girl growing up in Montgomery, Ala.

July 17, 2001 - As a little girl growing up in Montgomery, Ala., Elaine Flowers was more likely to be looking up at the stars than down at the flowers. She's still doing that today: this week, Elaine Flowers Duncan is watching as astronauts unload a special carrier that she helped prepare for flight on the Space Shuttle Atlantis' trip to the International Space Station.

"My friends and family always considered me 'spacey' and 'out there' as a child," said Duncan, project manager for the Spacelab Pallet in the Flight Projects Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

"I like working for NASA because I can be 'out there' -- working on 'spacey,' cutting-edge technology that makes a real difference here on Earth."

On July 12, the Spacelab Pallet -- managed by Duncan and her team at the Marshall Center -- was launched on the Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-104 mission. It safely carried a new air resupply system to the International Space Station inside the Shuttle's cargo bay. Duncan's team customized the pallet to carry the special, high-pressure gas system that will repressurize the new U.S. airlock -- a doorway for astronauts to use during space walks, also delivered last week by the Shuttle.

"It's great to see the hardware -- hardware that did such a good job supporting Spacelab science payloads on the Shuttle -- continue the tradition by carrying major components to our newest research facility, " said Duncan.

By reusing the Spacelab Logistics Pallet and taking advantage of the Marshall Center's 20 years of successful experience assembling and operating unpressurized carriers, Duncan and her team are making it less expensive to transport Space Station components.

"We performed all the engineering, including design, development, test and evaluation of the flight support equipment and the pallet to carry the hardware safely on the Shuttle to the Station," said Duncan.

During the Shuttle mission, the Spacelab Pallet team is working at the Engineering Support Room located inside the Payload Operations Center - the command post for Space Station science operations at the Marshall Center.

On Sunday, July 15, astronauts completed the first space walk -- successfully attaching the airlock to the Space Station. During the next space walk, scheduled for Tuesday, July 17, astronauts will install the first two high-pressure gas tanks. While the Shuttle is docked with the Station, the arm will be used to pick up the tanks and lift them off the pallet. Astronauts then will attach the tanks to the Station.

The second set of oxygen and nitrogen tanks will be removed from the pallet and installed on the airlock during a space walk scheduled for Thursday, July 19. Atlantis will bring the reusable pallet home when it returns on July 23.

Duncan's team worked on special mechanisms to make it easier for the arm to remove the gas tanks from the pallet and place them near the Station.

Before working on this special Space Station delivery, Duncan had plenty of experience planning and carrying out operations in space. When she joined NASA in 1980, she worked at the Marshall Center as an operations engineer planning experiment operations for several Spacelab missions - flights of a science laboratory inside the Shuttle's payload bay. In 1988, she served at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., as a program manager who helped plan future operations aboard the Station.

In 1993, NASA selected Duncan as an outstanding role model in science and engineering, and she participated in a traveling museum display viewed across the United States. She especially enjoys inspiring children to pursue careers in science and engineering.

"I've always loved science and mathematics," said Duncan. "I want other children growing up in Alabama to know that working hard at what you love is enjoyable and rewarding."

Duncan earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Alabama State University in Montgomery in 1976, and a master's degree in urban systems engineering from Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1980. She is a graduate of Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery.

Duncan, her husband Donald Duncan and their two children, Wesley and Jasmine, reside in Huntsville.

All text and photos for this story were provided by Marshall Space Flight Center.


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/23/2003
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