It has been four years since the final Space Shuttle flight. Among other things in the 30-years of the shuttle program it made possible the construction of the International Space Station. At this very moment the station has a full crew, is orbiting the earth some 250-miles out, and is carrying for dozens of active scientific experiments.
For some 15 years, workers in the Payload Operations Center at Marshall Space Flight Center have been instrumental in making the science on the station, work. "It's a huge responsibility. I mean, we are NASA's operators of experiments on the space station," says Payload Operations Director, Stephanie Dudley. The science on the station is international, but it all goes through Marshall's Payload Operations Center.
In recent weeks, there have been some incredible breakthroughs in research about the planet Mars. The POC, as it's called, had nothing to do with any of them. It very much has something to do with research on the ISS that will make human travel to Mars and back, possible. "We would not have known about the eye changes that astronauts experience without having been on station. If we skipped this step, if we sent them straight to Mars, they would have gotten there and not been able to see," says Dudley.
The science of space travel is one thing, but what about experiments on the station that will help people on Earth? "Studying how astronauts adapt to changes in their bones because of the lack of gravity is directly adaptable to women experiencing osteoporosis," says Stephanie Dudley. Osteoporosis is this serious problem of bone loss, and it has a disproportionate effect on women.
Right now, there are 240-experiments underway on the ISS. Workers in the Payload Operations Center actually operate them or deal with station crew that operates them. It is a 24-hour a day, seven days a week job.