Shuttle and station astronauts perform many tasks
as they orbit the Earth. The space shuttle is a versatile vehicle
that provides facilities to perform science experiments, release
and capture huge satellites and even assemble the International
Space Station. However, the space shuttle was only designed to fly
in space for about two and a half weeks at a time.
Tour the inside of the Zvezda Service
Module and watch astronauts at work.
The space station, on the other hand, is designed
to be a permanent orbiting research facility. Its major purpose
is to perform world-class science and research that only the microgravity
environment can provide. The station crew spends their day working
on science experiments that require their input, as well as monitoring
those that are controlled from the ground. They also take part in
medical experiments to determine how well their bodies are adjusting
to living with no gravity for long periods of time.
Working on the space station also means ensuring
the maintenance and health of the orbiting platform. Crewmembers
are constantly checking support systems and cleaning filters, updating
computer equipment - doing many of the things a homeowner must do
to ensure their largest investment stays in good shape. Similarly,
Mission Control constantly monitors the space station and sends
messages each day through voice or e-mail with new instructions
or plans to assist the crew members in their daily routine.
an image to see astronauts at work.|
Before the International Space Station and the Russian
Mir space station, the space shuttle was the only vehicle that NASA
astronauts could live and work on for days at a time. The space
shuttle would deliver satellites to space that could broadcast communications
or peer into the edge of the universe. Of course, the crewmembers
would carefully check all systems before finally releasing a satellite
into Earth orbit.
On Christmas day 1999, the STS-103 astronauts
release the Hubble Space Telescope.
Probably the most famous satellite released from
the space shuttle's payload bay is the Hubble Space Telescope. The
shuttle has even returned to space three times with replacement
parts destined for Hubble. Before the Hubble can be fitted with
new parts, though, an astronaut must use the shuttle's robotic arm
to capture the satellite and then maneuver it inside the payload
bay where it can be secured. Then, space walkers venture into the
payload bay, climb up the Hubble Space Telescope and install the
new parts. After ground controllers are sure the Hubble Space Telescope
is in good condition, the robotic arm grabs the satellite then releases
it back into space.
Research beneficial to life on Earth has been performed
inside the space shuttle. For instance, protein crystals grown in
space provide researchers insights into stronger, safer medications
here on Earth. Plants grown in space help scientists learn how to
grow healthier stronger plants on Earth. Plant experiments also
help researchers understand the implications of feeding astronauts
on long-term missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Studies have also
been performed on astronauts themselves, mostly in an effort to
determine the effects of microgravity on human bone and tissue.