Getaway Special

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Two Getaway Special (GAS) canisters, used on STS-91

Getaway Special was a NASA program that offered interested individuals, or groups, opportunities to fly small experiments aboard the Space Shuttle. The program, which was officially known as the Small, Self-Contained Payloads program, was canceled following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003.


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The program was conceived by NASA's Shuttle program manager John Yardley, and announced in the fall of 1976. It was canceled after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003. The last Getaway Special, which was carried aboard STS-107, was the Freestar experiment package, which carried six different experiments. Much of the data was lost when Columbia was destroyed, but some data was transmitted during the mission.

After reorganization of the Shuttle Program, NASA cited the need for the remaining shuttle fleet to complete assembly of the ISS to justify its decision to cancel the program. The GAS program canisters and GAS Bridge combined weight were only usable on low orbit missions, which were rescheduled with higher priority payloads. With payload and program limits set on the remaining shuttle missions until the expected STS close-out in 2010, the GAS program was eliminated.

# Shuttle Flight Experiment Organization
N/A STS-3 Flight Verification Payload NASA
G001 STS-4 The First Flight Utah State University
G026 STS-5 German Materials Processing
G005 STS-6 Japanese Snowflakes
G049 STS-6 Air Force Cadets
G381 STS-6 Exposing Seeds to Space
G002 STS-7 German Students
G009 STS-7 Purdue University Students
G012 STS-7 New Jersey Students
G033 STS-7 Cal Tech Students
G093R STS-88 Vortex Ring Transit Experiment University of Michigan
G093 STS-89 Vortex Ring Transit Experiment University of Michigan


To assure that diverse groups have access to space, NASA rotated GAS payload assignments among four major categories of users: educational, foreign, commercial, and U.S. government. GAS payloads had been reserved by foreign governments and individuals; U.S. industrialists, foundations, high schools, colleges and universities; professional societies; service clubs; and many others. Although persons and groups involved in space research have obtained many of the reservations, a large number of spaces have been reserved by persons and organizations outside the space community.

GAS requests must first be approved at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., by the director of the Transportation Services Office. At that point NASA screens the propriety and objectives of each request. To complete the reservation process for GAS payloads, each request must be accompanied or preceded by the payment of $500. Approved requests are assigned an identification number and referred to the GAS team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the designated lead center for the project. The GAS team screens the proposals for safety and provides advice and consultation on payload design. It certifies that proposed payloads are safe and will not harm or interfere with the operations of the space shuttle, its crew, or other experiments on the flight. The costs of any physical testing required to answer safety questions before launch are borne by the GAS customer.


GAS canisters shown mounted in the shuttle cargo bay. This image is from STS-91. The front of the shuttle is to the left of the picture.

There were no stringent requirements to qualify for participation in the GAS program. However, each payload was required to meet specific safety criteria, have been screened for its propriety, as well as being evaluated for its educational, scientific or technological objectives. These guidelines preclude commemorative items, such as medallions, that are intended for sale as objects that have flown in space. NASA's Space Shuttle program had specific standards and conditions relating to GAS payloads. Payloads were required to have fit into NASA standard containers and weigh no more than 200 pounds (91 kg). Two or more experiments could have been included in a single container if they fit while not exceeding weight limitations. The payload must have been self-powered, as experiments could not draw on the shuttle orbiter's electricity. In addition, the crew's involvement with GAS payloads was limited to six simple activities (such as turning on and off up to three payload switches), due to the fact that crew activity schedules do not provide opportunities to either monitor or service GAS payloads in flight.

The cost of this unique service depended on the size and weight of the experiment. Getaway specials of 200 pounds (91 kg) and 5 cubic feet (0.14 m3) cost $10,000; 100 pounds (45 kg) and 2.5 cubic feet (0.071 m3), $5,000; and 60 pounds (27 kg) and 2.5 cubic feet (0.071 m3), $3,000. The weight of the GAS container, experiment mounting plate and its attachment screws, and all hardware regularly supplied by NASA was not charged to the experimenter's weight allowance.

The GAS container provided internal pressure, which could be varied from near vacuum to about one atmosphere. The bottom and sides of the container were always thermally insulated, and the top may have been insulated or not, depending on the specific experiment. A lid that could be opened, or one with a window, may be required, and were offered as options at additional cost. The GAS containers were made of aluminum, and the circular end plates are 58 inch (16 mm) thick aluminum. The bottom 3 inches (76 mm) of the container were reserved for NASA interface equipment, such as command decoders and pressure regulating systems. The container was a pressure vessel that could be evacuated before or during launch, or on orbit, and could be re-pressurized during re-entry, or on orbit, as required by the experimenter.

The getaway bridge, which was capable of holding 12 canisters, made its maiden flight on STS-61-C. The aluminum bridge fit across the payload bay of the orbiter and offered a convenient and economic way of flying several GAS canisters.

Example of GAS experiments[edit]

  • STS-7 - Pugas
  • STS-40 - G-616 Cosmic Radiation Effects on Floppy Disks
  • STS-47 - Project POSTAR
  • STS-61-C - 1986: Vertical Horizons (G-481)
    • Ellery Kurtz, artist & Howard Wishnow, Project Coordinator. An art conservation experiment on board the Space Shuttle Columbia. Included in the canister as part of the experiment were 4 original oil paintings by Kurtz, and other artistic materials, in order to evaluate the effects of spaceflight on fine art materials.
  • STS-91 - June 2, 1998 (G-743)[1]

Full list of experiments[edit]

Reference for this table: [2]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]