Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
station airlock manager set his sights on the stars as a boy
July 30, 2001
- As a boy growing up in Fairhope, Ala., Todd May gazed at the stars
and dreamed of space exploration.
loved space as long as I can remember,” said May. “When
I was just five, I remember climbing on the roof of my grandfather’s
house on Fort Morgan Road in Gulf Shores to watch a lunar eclipse.
From then on, I was hooked.”
leads the team that built a “doorway to the stars” —
a new airlock that is making it easier to exit the International
Space Station for Extravehicular Activities, also known as EVAs
and space walks. On July 20, May and his team watched as astronauts
Michael Gernhardt and James Reilly conducted the first space walk
from the Station using the new Quest Airlock — manufactured
at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
a real rush of emotion when I saw Mike stick his head out of the
airlock hatch for the first time,” said May, airlock element
manager in Marshall’s Flight Project Directorate. “It
was like our team scoring the winning touchdown.”
The Quest Airlock
makes it easier for crews to perform space walks, and allows both
Russian and American spacesuits to be worn when the Shuttle is not
docked with the Space Station. American suits will not fit through
Russian airlocks at the Station.
our team had done its best to prepare the Quest Airlock for a safe
flight,” said May. “Once we got the high-pressure oxygen
lines safely filled, our engineers working in the control center
breathed a sigh of relief. We knew the airlock was ready for its
debut space walk.”
The new robot
arm, delivered to the Station in April, was used to pick up the
airlock from the Space Shuttle Atlantis’ cargo bay and attach
it to Unity, a node or passageway that connects to Destiny, the
U.S. laboratory module. During the STS-104 mission, while the Shuttle
was docked with the Station, astronauts performed three space walks
to complete airlock installation and activation.May and his team
supported the flight activities from the Payload Operations Center
located at Marshall and the Mission Control Center at NASA’s
Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas
To build and test the airlock before its delivery to the Station,
May worked with a team involving more than 12 contractors from two
countries, as well as three NASA centers — Marshall, Johnson, and Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Boeing Company, the Space
Station prime contractor, built the 6.5-ton (5.8 metric ton) airlock
and several other key Station components in the same Marshall building
where the Saturn V rocket was built that carried people to the Moon.
was a tremendous pleasure to watch the NASA and Boeing team transform
an empty shell into a flight-worthy component of the Space Station,”
The Joint Airlock
Module is spindle-shaped, consisting of two cylindrical, pressurized
chambers. It is 18 feet (5.49 meters) long and has a diameter of
13 feet (3.96 meters). Inside the large chamber attached directly
to the Unity node, astronauts from every participating nation can
suit up for space walks to assemble the Station, perform maintenance
or install experiments.
In the large
chamber, several crew members don suits and perform other activities
to prepare for extravehicular activities. Just before the start
of a space walk, crew members close a hatch and move to the smaller
part of the airlock. Here, pressure is reduced, so the crew can
safely go outside and work in the vacuum of a space.
and acoustics testing, thermal and structural analysis and mechanical
evaluation and testing, and safety are just a few of the areas Marshall
team members have supported,” said May. “Marshall also
provided manufacturing facilities and performed program-critical
from Auburn University in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in
materials engineering, May started his career at NASA in 1991 as
an engineer at the Marshall Center’s Materials and Processes
Laboratory, leading work on the Space Station module. Then, he worked
at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, leading a team that evaluated materials and processes used for the Space Station.
Later he became deputy manager of the team working with Russia on
the Space Station.
In 1998, May
returned to Alabama to lead the team constructing the airlock. May
his wife Kelly and their three children, Carson, Madison, and Harrison,
reside in Huntsville.
and photos for this story were provided by Marshall Space Flight