A small team has been at NASA Ames and at NASA KSC over the past 2 weeks. NASA Ames runs control center or the communications with the astronauts as they work with the rodent payloads. There was some confusion as there is a “Melissa” that was speaking to the astronauts (on the “loops”) and they wondered why the PI was speaking to them. We had to clarify there are 2 different Melissa’s involved in this mission.
Rasha, the Army PI, and Jim, from the DoD Space Test Program, were stationed at NASA Ames and watched and listened to the astronauts from there. Myself, Perry and Carolynn (also from DoD Space Test Program) watched and listened from NASA KSC. The picture is of me in the Research Experiment Monitoring Area (recently renamed from Rodent Experiment Monitoring Area). This is where we were able to pull up the video of the astronauts while they were working with our payload and we could hear everything the Melissa located at NASA Ames was saying to the astronauts. She called out each step. The also had each step as a typed protocol….just like we have in the lab. I suspect my students will enjoy hearing the astronauts were literally having 20+ folks “watching over their shoulder” as I know when I go into the lab and watch the students it makes them nervous etc. So they will be happy to know even astronauts have the same treatment!
Sometimes we wanted to have minor adjustments made in how the astronauts did things and we usually texted, or called, or spoke to the NASA Ames folks on the “loops” and then that information was communicated by the other Melissa to the astronauts. The astronauts did a great job and our work was completed ahead of schedule. This was good news for the ISS, as they wanted to pack up the dragon capsule early as it will be returning to Earth on March 19th ahead of schedule.
Many of us took copious notes as to how long it took the astronauts to perform tasks and then we tried to mimic this precisely on Earth. I would say it usually took them 2-3 times the amount of time (at least) it would take us on Earth. In some cases maybe closer to 5 times as long. As you can imagine it is much more difficult when things float around! Overall, I was very impressed with the competence and the care the astronauts took of our payload (and to think they have sometimes as many as 100 experiments they are running at one time, lots to learn). If they get tired of their day jobs, I am sure I will have an opening in the lab and I would be happy to have them join our team at IU School of Medicine!
Here is another note related to the photo. The monitor to the left shows the astronaut timeline – how long they have scheduled for every task all day long, including eating and exercise etc – very scheduled. The monitor on the right side shows the MSG or the Microgravity Science Glovebox. For those familiar with laboratories, we usually work in a biosafety cabinet or “hood” to protect the people and to also keep the experiment sterile or clean. This is as close to that as they get in spaceflight. It is mainly to keep the astronauts safe, it certainly is not sterile. And as you can see it is packed full of all of the supplies they will need to complete our studies. The astronaut inserts their hands through the white sleeves and then put on gloves and start working. Not the easiest way to work either! No wonder it takes them longer to do things.
Written by Melissa