Sept. 1 was a busy moving day aboard the International Space Station as the Expedition 63 crew reorganized science racks.
Since its inception, the orbiting lab’s main focus has been research that is only possible in microgravity. Scientists take advantage of these unique insights to improve health and industry for humans on Earth and in space. A variety of specialized racks throughout the station’s laboratory modules host numerous science experiments revealing phenomena only seen in weightlessness.
Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA and Flight Engineer Ivan Vagner of Russian space agency Roscosmos partnered to move three dedicated science racks, also known as Expedite the Processing of Experiments to the Space Station or ExPRESS, and installed them inside the U.S. Destiny, Japan’s Kibo and Europe’s Columbus lab modules. The moves will support future experiments being delivered on an upcoming Cygnus resupply mission from Northrop Grumman.
There are 11 refrigerator-sized ExPRESS racks installed on the station supporting a multitude of experiments. The final rack was delivered in May aboard the Japanese HTV-9 resupply ship. The ExPRESS racks, jointly built and tested at Marshall Space Flight Center by NASA and the Boeing Co., have been integral to station science for almost 20 years – yielding a combined 85 years of science rack operations.
“The first ExPRESS rack was delivered to the space station in 2001,” Brian Odom, acting NASA chief historian, said. “As we embark on 20 years of human presence on the station, hardware such as the EXPRESS rack has enabled extensive science research.”
Each ExPRESS rack comes equipped with up to eight configurable lockers and two drawers to house payloads, Experiments can be conducted, removed independently and returned to Earth, according to varying time requirements.
These permanent fixtures on the station support a variety of research and provide power, protective storage, cooling and heating, command and data communications, and easy transport for up to 10 small payloads each.
“At any given time, up to 80 experiments can be in process, controlled by station crew members or from the ground,” Shaun Glasgow, project manager for the ExPRESS racks at Marshall, said. “The ExPRESS racks operate at near capacity around the clock.”
Marshall oversees space station hardware development and implementation for NASA, and agency personnel at Marshall’s Payload Operations Integration Center monitor experiments continuously. As NASA’s primary space station science command post, the Payload Operations Integration Center coordinates scientific and commercial experiments on the station, synchronizes payload activities of international partners, and directs communications between researchers around the world and their onboard experiments. To help the crew in orbit conduct scientific study, the operations center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
For almost 20 years, since the Expedition 1 crew arrived Nov. 2, 2000, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the space station. This orbiting laboratory has advanced capabilities in long-duration human space operations and in conducting scientific research and technology development in space. The space station remains the sole, space-based proving ground, greatly enabling NASA to go forward to the Moon and Mars. Under this unique international partnership, 240 people from 19 countries have visited the station, which has hosted more than 3,000 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.