Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Astronaut's Home Away from Home

Tuesday, February 9, 2010
A team of flight crew support specialists is looking forward to cheering and waving as space shuttle Endeavour's STS-130 crew members exit the Operations and Checkout Building, board the Astrovan and head to Launch Complex 39 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Later, many of them will watch as Endeavour lifts off from pad 39A on Feb. 7 at 4:39 a.m. EST. The team's thoughts and good wishes will go out to Commander George Zamka, Pilot Terry Virts, and Mission Specialists Robert Behnken, Nicholas Patrick, Kathryn Hire and Stephen Robinson for a successful mission to the International Space Station. The STS-130 crew will deliver and install the Tranquility node and cupola to the station during a 13-day mission.

Lauren Lunde, with NASA, Judy Hooper, with United Space Alliance, and several others, take care of the astronauts 24/7 in the Astronaut Crew Quarters during preflight training and leading up to all shuttle launches. In this home away from home, they work in shifts, with additional staff called in as needed to help cook and clean.

"The crew is extremely busy when they come in," Hooper said. "We could not function without all of the group's efforts to take care of the astronauts."

Those who work in the crew quarters include cooks, attendants, flight data file personnel, flight nurses and other astronauts supporting the crew.

Inside an area that dates back to the Apollo Program are facilities that have been upgraded throughout the years, including a kitchen, staff conference room, crew conference room, workout room, lounge, laundry room, computer room, suit-up room, dining room, medical facility, staff office and prime crew sleeping quarters.

Lunde and Hooper said it's their mission to make the astronauts' stay in crew quarters as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

"Their health and well-being are very important," Lunde said. "For this reason, access to crew quarters is limited to the staff and astronaut support personnel leading up to each launch."

Attendants Irene Hancock and Janet McCrary, both with United Space Alliance going on 10 years, are certified food handlers and provide meals for the astronauts and support personnel.

"It feels like family here," Hancock said. "The astronauts share family stories, jokes and laughs with us."

The team's typical day begins at 6 a.m. They get the kitchen going for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Laundry and inventory are completed. Maintenance trouble calls are tended to, and sleeping quarters and the beach house are cleaned.

According to Hooper, the lights in main rooms are adjustable so that daylight can be simulated during the evening, and vice versa, to coincide with the astronauts' circadian sleep rhythms as they prepare for their mission.

"The lights can be out nearly all day," Hooper said. "The crews can be up at night and asleep during the day."

Hooper said the unique environment working around astronauts who are trained and ready for their missions more than cancels out the challenges of working long shifts, and McCrary said she's really learned a lot about the space program by just being around the astronauts.

Whether the astronauts are here for training or launch, the team keeps tabs on them using a sign-out board. A quick page or phone call brings the astronauts back to crew quarters if needed.

The staff operates under NASA Johnson Space Center's Health Stabilization Program. Twice yearly, the staff undergoes a physical exam and trains regularly on health issues and crew quarters procedures.

Lunde said, like many of the astronauts before them, the crew quarters team hopes to keep in touch with the STS-130 astronauts long after their mission is complete.


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