Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

NASA opens space station science command post
Posted: February 4, 2001

The command and control center for scientific research aboard the International Space Station is open for business. The science command post linking Earth-bound researchers with their experiments and astronauts in orbit was commissioned Friday during ceremonies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL.

The Payload Operations Center (POC) will provide the heartbeat for space station science operations, the most ambitious research endeavor ever undertaken in space.

Inside the International Space Station Payload Operations Center at Marshall. Photo: NASA-MSFC
"Today, we have taken another significant step toward realizing a long-held dream -- a fully productive, permanent international research outpost in orbit," said Art Stephenson, director, Marshall Space Flight Center. "From this facility, we will manage fundamental scientific research that can only be done in space -- research that will lead to knowledge to benefit all humanity here on earth."

The new 13,300 square-foot facility is housed in a section of the Huntsville Operations Support Center, a historic two-story complex that provided engineering support for Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle launches, as well as Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory operations. The complex also houses the Spacelab Mission Operations Control Center from which more than 25 shuttle-based science missions were controlled.

The POC will be staffed around the clock by three shifts of 13 to 19 flight controllers.

The building housing the POC. Photo: NASA-MSFC
Throughout the life of the space station, the operations center will integrate research requirements and plan the station's science missions and ensure they are safely executed. It will integrate crew and ground-team training and research mission timelines. It will manage use of space station payload resources, handle science communications with the crew, and manage commanding and data transmissions to and from the orbiting research center.

To communicate with astronauts in orbit, POC flight controllers will use the call sign "Huntsville." The command center is linked with and integrates the activities of research control centers and universities in the U.S. and throughout the world.

With today's commissioning, the POC stands ready to support around-the-clock science research aboard the space station, once the new Destiny laboratory is in place and the Expedition Two crew is launched in March.

"Our team is trained and ready to go," said Jan Davis, former astronaut and director of Marshall's Flight Projects Directorate, the organization that manages the new space station facility. "They bring years of experience supporting Spacelab missions with them to their consoles." Now, however, they will be called upon to routinely manage three-to-four times the number of experiments conducted aboard Spacelab, and also to be responsible for station-wide payload safety, planning, execution and troubleshooting.

The opening comes just days before the Destiny lab is scheduled to be carried to the space station by Shuttle Atlantis and its five-member crew. The launch of Atlantis is now set for Feb. 7, at 6:11 p.m. EST. Destiny, built at Marshall by The Boeing Co., is the first laboratory to be delivered to the orbiting platform, and its arrival will mark the beginning of a space science odyssey for NASA and its international partners.