AidSpace Blog

Packing for Spaceflight

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Museum staffers are busy outfitting our new shuttle middeck for spaceflight. No, not the actual crew compartment of Discovery, now on display at the Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. This middeck is a reproduction recently installed in the Moving Beyond Earth gallery at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

middeck

View into the middeck reproduction as if entering from the shuttle payload bay

The middeck is an immersive feature that brings “living and working in space” to life. Visitors are invited into the middeck to see and feel for themselves the room that shuttle crews occupied during much of their time in orbit. Without the benefit of weightlessness to permit use of the overhead volume, it is easy, and surprising, to see what close quarters a seven-person crew shared.

The Museum is actively engaged in acquiring from NASA a variety of crew equipment—hundreds of small artifacts—typically used on shuttle missions. We are displaying many of these items in the middeck lockers where they would be stowed during flight. Visitors are welcome to open the lockers to see what is inside, safely installed behind glass. The contents range from ordinary (toothpaste and toothbrush) to extraordinary (gold and silver commemorative coins) flown-in-space items.

middeck lockers

Bank of lockers to be filled with crew equipment and other artifacts

To date, lockers have been loaded with some of the normal “stuff” of life in space—food, a portable computer and microcassette recorder, a digital camera and lenses.  Still to come: clothing, personal hygiene supplies, in-flight maintenance tools, experiment equipment, checklists, more cameras, and some shuttle housekeeping supplies. Some lockers ask tempting questions to encourage opening: What movie star is on board? (Buzz Lightyear!) Is soda fizzy in space? (Check out the modified Coke and Pepsi cans tried on the shuttle.) What’s for dinner? (Can you identify these processed foods?)

Besides the lockers, a reproduction shuttle toilet is perched just where it should be in orbit but can be wheeled out for a demonstration. Coming soon, we will add a sleep restraint, exercise cycle, and galley in their appropriate locations and other paraphernalia from shuttle missions, including the IMAX camera.

Apart from the pleasure of outfitting the middeck to give visitors insight into life in orbit, staff have paid careful attention to the actual middeck layout and sought to match locker locations to a real shuttle mission. We have selected items that suggest the full range of crew activities in orbit. Each item chosen for display undergoes an incoming inspection and condition report by our conservators, careful documentation and temporary storage by our collections managers, measurement and trial layout by the combined curatorial-exhibit design-collections care team, design and fabrication of a custom-mount to display it properly and securely without damage, and finally transport and installation into the designated locker. At the same time the artifacts are moving through this process, the exhibit team is drafting, designing, fit-checking, revising, and producing the labels that appear on or inside the locker doors. The team for the middeck project alone numbers about 20 people.

The Space Shuttle era has come to an end with the retirement of the orbiters, but the practical realities of living and working in space will be accessible for some time through the Moving Beyond Earth exhibition and especially the shuttle middeck. The next time you visit the Museum in Washington, DC, stop by and explore the middeck, all packed up for spaceflight. You may find some surprises there.

Valerie Neal is a curator in the Space History Division of the National Air and Space Museum. She is space shuttle curator and co-lead curator for the Moving Beyond Earth exhibition.

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8 thoughts on “Packing for Spaceflight

  1. What an awesome display. I have been in the mid-deck of Endeavour and Atlantis. What an honor and privilege.

  2. Great man pass away but his footprints are on the moon human race and history will ever remember him so rest in peace the whole world love and respect yoyr memory

  3. Mark Smith: This exhibit is in the National Mall Building. See opening paragraph above first photo.

  4. I saw this exhibit in August 2012. I can’t wait to see it when more items are added. Your next exhibit should be a view of the shuttle’s airlock and then the flight deck!

  5. With 32 years working flight deck, mid deck, airlocks, hatches, EVERYTHING, Pad shuttle closeout for flight and also working return and refurb i would enjoy seeing how close they have everything in order. Those airlocks where tricky, even had a closeout astronaut set a vent in the open position one time before final closure and was only caught on review of closeout photos back at the lab a few hours before launch, if you know pressures you know what would have happened. Did you know that 4 lockers where removed every time right over the top of the airlock so someone could be lowered by cable once in the vertical, There is no way to get to the tunnel once installed at the pad to gain access to the labs we use to fly till we lost them in the accident. Did you know the condaments that where flown and NEVER advertised where M&M’s, Mayo, Katsup, baby wipes and relish, those where the main items stowed in the pantry oven area. There are so many little things that no one knows a thing about. There are alot of things that where flown that where not put in the mid deck until the night before launch so no one saw them except for us that did final closeout of crew module and white room. Like a test power-ade dispense machine, just like on earth. Hardly anyone knows that in the begining we did not have Tile on the trailing edge of the elevons that they where ablators but kept burning and slumping to much so Eng where told to come up with special designed tiles, that took years to get those tiles just right to keep from melting and slumping as we called it, also they where carcinogenic and had to go anyways. SO MANY little things to share with everyone and no way to do it, maybe i should sit there with the shuttle and answer all the little questions that people have, of course all the MAJOR loads and numbers where left to the Eng. We just did all the work and they made sure all the numbers came out right. I loved my job and never thought it would end just like that. I saw my first shuttle in 1976 on my way to Korea in the army when I stopped to see my dad in Palmdale where he lived and was building the test vechicle and of course the real baby too. So there where two generations in my family that worked on the shuttle START to FINISH. I sure have a lifetime of photos and patches and pictures to start my own museum that is for sure and I am sure there are alot of others that do also. And by the way, the potty, after awhile we could remove and instal that thing in one maybe two shifts, no big deal, it was to far blown up to sound like it was a major problem. We had waste tanks under the floor of the mid deck just like on a motor home to store waste and grey water, i am sure that is a load off of peoples minds, haha. I did not know Poindexter died in 2012, worked with him many many times at the PAD. I believe the friendliest and most envolved astonaut of the hole core was Curt Brown and Mike McCulley, two great guys, every launch there was a lead astronaut that was not on that flight to help all the others that where going to fly with daily tasks and tests taking a burden off the ones that where there to fly. I did closeout in the whiteroom in the middle of the program, the guys in white loading the astronauts and most where so nervous they had the shakes sometimes, so a helping hand was good to help them never forget or preform a step. And by the way looking at the picture of the lockers like they are, in my position at the launch pad that would be the ceiling, haha. As the chairs sit they sit in they would be facing those lockers right in there face, also with straps and com cords all over them so they could get up and out of there seats, remember by that time they where on there backs until after launch. Under neath all those lockers where all the flight data and processing equipment, all the brains of the shuttle. Try changing a 50 or 60 lb black box out over head, not easy. The hardest was changing one of the 3 IMU if one went bad at the pad. And the other hardest job at the pad was changing a star tracker at the pad in vertical postion.

  6. Chris Brown, Thank you for sharing some of your many detailed memories. You guys knew the vehicles and contents inside and out. I’m still learning!

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