July 29, 1999 Science teams around the world are poised for an exciting voyage into space -- to boldly go beyond the limits of gravity in search of ways to improve life on Earth.
These trekkers represent a new breed of "virtual" researchers who will conduct fundamental, ground-breaking science aboard the International Space Station without leaving home. They’ll use a tool known as the Telescience Resource Kit, or TReK -- a new computer software system that enables scientists to remotely operate their Space Station experiments from anywhere in the world.
"As we move into the Space Station era and round-the-clock, long-duration science operations in space, it’s not practical or feasible to have science teams on site," said Michelle Schneider, who leads the team of NASA engineers who developed TReK at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
The idea behind TReK is to make it easy for science teams working in their own laboratories on Earth to receive information from and transmit commands to their experiments aboard the Space Station 220 miles in space. "TReK is a user-friendly, PC-based system," said Schneider. "PC advancements -- processing power, memory and networking capabilities -- enable PCs to support this system."
TReK uses off-the-shelf computer hardware and software, which makes it cost-effective for users. "We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel if what we needed was already out there," said Schneider. "We provide users with TReK, the non-commercial software, and a list of suggested hardware -- basically, any PC -- and software that is readily available."
TReK works by receiving and relaying information to the main computer system in the Science Operations Center at Marshall. Science teams will specify what information they want to obtain from their experiments and in what intervals. Once the experiment is under way, the main computer system in the Operations Center retrieves the requested information and routes it to the TReK system. TReK processes and displays the information for the science teams. In turn, science teams can send information through TReK to the main computer system which relays it to the experiment.
With TReK, nearly all Space Station science operations can be remote. "It has the capability to support most of the experiments conducted aboard the Space Station," said Schneider. "We could have as many remote sites as we have science teams."
Science teams are now getting a first-look at the system and seem pleased. "Remote-site testing has begun," said Schneider, "allowing users to get a feel for the product and allowing us to get some initial, positive feedback from users." The first delivery of TReK is expected to be fully operational next summer.
The first Space Station experiments planned for installation on the orbiting laboratory are scheduled for launch in 2000. Assembly of the International Space Station began last December when the Endeavour Space Shuttle mission attached together in orbit the first two station modules.
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