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Training Station Crews to Perform Science Experiments

IMAGE: Expedition 7 NASA ISS Science Officer Ed Lu, left, and trainer Jessica Meir
Space Station instructor Jessica Meir, right, demonstrates a piece of experiment hardware for Expedition 7 NASA ISS Science Officer Ed Lu.

Learning how to do his or her assigned science experiments is an important part of training for every Space Station crewmember. Teams of experts and hundreds of hours are required to ensure that every crewmember has the knowledge and skills needed to perform their assigned experiments -- the researchers on Earth are depending on them.

Previous Station crews have grown human cells to study how cancers grow and worked with antibiotics to find a way to produce them faster on Earth. They've grown plants to develop drought-resistant crops and crystals to improve gasoline production. They've also studied the human body in microgravity, gathering information on everything from how the lungs perform to the formation of kidney stones and the performance of liver cells. Other experiments take advantage of the very low gravity on the Space Station to study physical processes. By eliminating gravity, researchers can better understand some of the smaller forces that occur in such processes as semiconductor production.

Hands-on Training

Crewmembers in training learn how to:

*draw blood
*harvest cells
*use specialized software for experiments
*maintain experiment hardware (replacing batteries, cleaning filters, stowing samples, etc.
*photograph experiment results
*maintain records of experiment activities and send data to the ground
*troubleshoot experiment problems

Preflight, crewmembers learn how to operate laboratory equipment such as:

*Human Research Facility
*Advanced Astroculture Greenhouse
*Microgravity Science Glovebox
*Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System

Some Station experiments only require crewmembers to start and stop them (e.g., crystal growth), while other experiments require the crewmembers to be operators. Human Life Sciences experiments are unique in that crewmembers often serve as both test subjects and operators. These types of experiments help researchers better understand how the human body adapts to spending long periods of time in microgravity -- information that can help people on Earth as well.

Instructors must first determine how many crewmembers will be trained on each experiment, how many hours of training are required, who will perform the training, what procedures and software will be needed, and what equipment and facilities can be used based on the available budget. Individual training plans for every experiment are combined into a single plan that includes all the experiments in a scientific discipline, such as Human Life Sciences. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is responsible for managing each crewmember's training plan for all U.S. experiments. In addition to Human Life Sciences, the research areas include Physical Sciences, Fundamental Space Biology, Space Product Development and Earth Science/Space Flight.

Because crew time, whether before, during or after flight, is a very limited resource, every detail of an experiment training session must be planned, practiced and coordinated. Frequently, the researcher or principal investigator instructs crewmembers in how to operate their experiment. Computer Based Training lessons, or CBTs, are also developed by instructional design experts to provide ground-based and on-orbit crew training. CBTs can be used by the crew for proficiency training, to maintain their skills and knowledge of a specific experiment, or for initial training.

Over their 18-month training period, Station crewmembers will become proficient in each of their assigned experiments -- ready to provide ground-based researchers with the data they need to improve life here on Earth.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 08/14/2003
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