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What Happens on a Shuttle Mission?

On This Site

• Columbia's Last Flight
The Crew of Columbia's Last Flight
Space Shuttle Timeline
What Do Astronauts Eat in Space?
How Do You Become an Astronaut?

Elsewhere on the Web

• Space Shuttle Clickable Map
How Space Shuttles Work
Virtual Astronaut

A space shuttle mission can be very exciting, combining elements of danger, wonder, scientific experiments, and satisfaction.

Some shuttle missions have a huge amount of responsibility. Past missions have launches satellites and telescopes into orbit. Other missions have included spacewalks, some to fix satellites or telescopes. In the past few years, a large number of shuttle missions have been visits to the International Space Station.

During these flights, astronauts are not just flying the shuttle and waiting for the "big stuff." They're also conducting scientific experiments. And the experiments that astronauts have done in the 22 years of space shuttle flight have paid enormous dividends to the world of science. Cures to diseases have been found, answers to puzzling mysteries have also been found, and demand for getting an experiment aboard a shuttle flight is fierce.

On Columbia's last flight, it was conducting 80 experiments, sending data back to Earth all the time as well as bringing more data back home. Among the experiments being conducted were these:

  • how to pump iron without weights
  • how to overcome sleep disorders
  • how to make your heart healthier
  • how to overcome osteoporosis ("brittle-bone condition")
  • how to make water cleaner

Many of these scientific experiments are suggested by students or are actually the students' experiments.

Astronauts have to eat and drink, right? That's right, they do. They have specially prepared food and drinks. (See the article on Food in Space.)

What about sleep? Most astronauts sleep in sleeping bags that are attached to something to keep them from floating in the zero-gravity of space. A space shuttle has only four bunk beds, so the crew rotates sleep times. If needed, the commander and pilot can sleep in their chairs. (This can be difficult, however, because the Sun rises every 45 minutes during a mission.) Astronauts usually try to sleep for eight hours at a time, although the feeling of motion sickness often associated with being in space can make waking up in the middle of the "night" a lot easier.

It's usually a busy and exciting time aboard the space shuttle. For some astronauts, it's the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

Graphics courtesy of ArtToday 



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