Scientistastronauts role on Space Shuttle missions

On 18 November 1974, at the request of NASA, the Space Program Advisory Council (SPAC) undertook a study of the role of the scientist-astronauts within the Shuttle programme. This report sought constructive suggestions from a broad segment of the community of scientists, scientist-astronauts and programme managers associated with past manned space science and application programmes, or those who were likely to be associated with the forthcoming Shuttle era. In conclusion, the committee emphasised the high degree of usefulness a scientist-astronaut could have on experiment and payload integration issues between the principal investigators (PIs) and the CB office for Spacelab-type missions, and as the primary experiment operator on dedicated Spacelab missions.13 At the time, the terminology for non-pilot crew members on Shuttle flights was being defined. In Spacelab simulations, the term "Experiment Operator (EO)'' was being used, but this would evolve into 'Mission Specialist (MS)' for career astronauts and ''Payload Specialist (PS)'' for non-career crew members.

Responding to the request for suggestions on the utilisation of scientist-astronauts in the Shuttle programme, Louis C. Haughney, Geophysics Program Manager of the Airborne Science Office at Ames, wrote to the SPAC suggesting that a scientist-astronaut would be best suited to flights involving Spacelab: ''A scientist-astronaut's years of study and training has allowed him to gain comprehension, experience and skills in both aspects of the Spacelab program; the scientific and engineering investigations on the one hand, and the spacecraft systems and operations on the other.'' In addition to serving as an overall coordinator of a specific Spacelab flight, Haughney suggested, ''it may be worthwhile to consider SAs (scientist-astronauts) as mission managers for Spacelab flights.''14

Haughney proceeded to suggest an example of how such a concept might work. When a Spacelab flight is first proposed or considered, a scientist-astronaut could be assigned based on a particular scientific or engineering background relating to that specific flight. Using his experience and training, he could then provide input into the NASA decision to fly the mission or not, develop the flight plan, and review proposed experiments, being the point of contact with PIs and becoming familiar with both the science objectives and the equipment. When the flight is approved, between six and twelve months prior to launch, the SA could be assigned as ''the full-time manger of the mission and also the Mission Specialist for the flight.'' A second SA with similar background could be assigned as Assistant Mission Manager and back-up MS. With the right support, between them they could organise the team of specialists, including the training of payload specialists in both Spacelab systems and experiments. On the flight, Haughney suggested, the SA/Mission Manager could serve as MS and, in effect, the on-orbit flight director. He would be responsible for all Spacelab systems relating to experimental payloads, including electrical power supply and data processing. The back-up SA/Assistant Mission Manager would remain on the ground coordinating ground-based activities, working with the on-orbit SA to amend the flight plan and coordinating with the PIs over the day-to-day evaluation of the flight.

In concluding his suggestion, Haughney stated, ''The assignment of scientist-astronauts as the managers of Spacelab missions utilises their dual backgrounds. Their understanding and appreciation of the scientific and engineering objectives are combined with their intimate knowledge of the Spacelab's configuration. Thus they are in a unique position to direct the most effective and efficient use of the Spacelab and the Space Shuttle to carry out the desired investigations.'' This is not the way the role evolved, but it gave rise to the concept of a science team working on the experiments on research flights in the 1980s, with an orbiter crew handling the Shuttle. This led in the 1990s to a leading MS being designated Payload Commander and, more recently, developed into the position of NASA Science Officer on board ISS. (See Chapter 12.)

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