A unique “moving van” is getting ready to haul a big load of supplies to
space. But first comes precision, pre-flight practice.

The Multi Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) is essentially a “moving van” that
transports supplies to the International Space Station. The module, named
Raffaello, will make its third trip to space on the next Space Shuttle
mission, STS-114.

Raffaello is at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., being prepared for flight
in May of 2005. It will deliver such supplies as lamp housing assemblies to
replace interior lights, batteries and a photo and TV re-supply kit with new
camera lenses and videotapes.

Raffaello is a cylindrical module, about 21 feet long and 15 feet in
diameter, weighing almost 4.5 tons. It can carry up to 10 tons of cargo
packed into 16 standard racks.

Raffaello, Leonardo and Donatello are three MPLMs managed by NASA’s Marshall
Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. They were designed by the Italian
Space Agency and made in Italy under an agreement with NASA, in exchange for
Italian access to U.S. research time on the Space Station.

A six-member team from Marshall’s MPLM group recently participated in a
simulation of Space Shuttle Discovery’s Return to Flight mission at Johnson
Space Center in Houston. During the 36-hour simulation, the team operated
from the Mission Control Center, and the astronaut crew members — who also
participated in the simulation — were in a Shuttle simulator in another

“This exercise provides an excellent opportunity to re-familiarize ourselves
with the processes, systems and protocols associated with a mission,” said
Shawn Reagan, project manager for the MPLM at Marshall. “It has been more
than two years since we have flown one of our modules, so it is important to
be at the Mission Control Center again in order to work efficiently.”

The simulation began one day, 12 hours and 45 minutes into the mission —
just as the crew prepared to move Raffaello from the Shuttle’s cargo bay and
attach it to the Space Station. The Marshall team monitored the simulated
move — a move that involved a first. The Space Station’s robotic arm will
move the module from the Shuttle to the Station. In previous MPLM flights,
the Shuttle’s robotic arm has been used to make the transfer.

During the transfer, the team must make critical decisions that could affect
the mission, including monitoring the module’s interior temperature readings
to avoid moisture build-up. In this simulation, the team faced the challenge
of deciding whether condensation would build inside Raffaello if its shell
heaters could not be used when the module was moved from the Station back to
the Shuttle.

The heaters, mounted on the exterior walls of the module, are routinely used
to match the temperatures of the Shuttle and the Station. Although the
simulation ended before a final decision was made, the Marshall team
completed analysis that showed how quickly condensation would begin to form
and how quickly freezing would occur without the use of the heaters.

“It’s just one of the things that could happen to us and we have to be
prepared,” said Reagan. “These are excellent exercises to ensure we make the
best decisions.”

The Marshall Center continues working with the Environmental Control and
Life Support System, Nodes and the Payload Operations Center — the command
post for all science activity aboard the Space Station, all supporting the
Space Station Program Office at Johnson Space Center.