Monday, September 20, 2010

NASA JSC - Mission Control Center - Have you seen my Shuttle?

The Mission Control Center houses several Flight Control Rooms, from which flight controllers coordinate and monitor the spaceflights. The rooms have many computer resources to monitor, command and communicate with spacecraft. When a mission is underway the rooms are staffed around the clock, usually in three shifts.

Not far away from the FCR1 (Flight Control Center 1) is the Space Shuttle Control Room. So I visited that room today too. Here is what it looks like during full operation. 

Since there is currently no Space Shuttle in orbit, the room is not in active use. That's why I took the liberty and chose this seat to sit down...

While I am sitting here in the Flight Director's chair, let me introduce to you another dear friend of mine. Her name is Holly and she is a Flight Controller here in this very room. She sits at the EGIL console. First, let me ask Holly what exactly the tasks of the EGIL console is? 

Holly, please take over...

"Camilla, We monitor the cryo on the shuttle. The cryo is like gas in your car. The longer you want to stay on orbit, the more gas it will take. If you turn on a lot of lights or other equipment, that takes more gas. So we see how much gas we have when we lift off and model that in a program and then keep track of it during the mission to make sure we have enough to  come home."

Holly and her team have a very important job, I can already tell. But hold on, Holly says there is more:

"We also monitor all of the electrical buses on the shuttle.  If any equipment goes down, we look in our data to make sure we didn’t see anything short.  We also monitor the health of the Fuel Cells – they have pumps and motors and other things, so we make sure those temperatures and pressures are okay."

So that is one console of many inside this flight control room. Let's talk a look at the other various consoles here before talking more with Holly. This time we are going in rows from the big screen towards the back. 

Row 1:
FDO - Flight Dynamics Officer
The FDO, pronounced, "Fido", plans maneuvers and monitors trajectory in conjunction with the guidance officer. 

The Rendezvous Guidance and Procedures and Ascent/Entry Guidance and Procedures occupy the next console, depending on the time and/or type of mission; 

RENDEZVOUS - Rendezvous and Guidance and Procedures
Rendezvous supports shuttle missions during deploy, rendezvous, proximity operations phases, docking and undocking; whenever complex crew procedures are affecting orbit dynamics. 

GUIDANCE - Ascent/Entry Guidance and Procedures
The Guidance Officer is responsible for monitoring shuttle guidance and navigation, as well as the execution of crew procedures, particularly for ascent abort situations. 

GC - Ground Controller
Ground Controller oversees activities affecting Mission Control hardware, software and support facilities, coordinates the Ground Space Flight Tracking and Data Network (GSTDN) and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite Systems (TDRSS) with Goddard Space Flight Center. 

Row 2 EGIL - with Holly

Row 2
PROP - Propulsion
The PROP monitors and evaluates reaction control and orbital maneuvering systems jets and propellants and other consumables available for maneuvers. 

GNC - Guidance Navigation and Controls Systems
The GNC monitors all vehicle guidance, navigation and control systems; notifies flight director and crew of impeding abort situations and advises crew regarding guidance hardware malfunctions. 

MMACS - Maintenance, Mechanical, Arm and Crew Systems
The MMACS, pronounced "MAX", monitors operation of the orbiter's structural and mechanical systems, and follows use of onboard crew hardware and in-flight equipment maintenance. 

EGIL - Electrical Generation and Illumination 
EGIL, pronounced Eagle, monitors electrical system, fuel cels and associated cryogenics. AC and DC power circuits, vehicle pyrotechnics and lighting, and hardware caution and warning systems. 

Row 3
DPS - Data Processing Systems
The DPS determines status of data processing systems including the five onboard general purpose computers, flight-critical and launch data lines, the multifunction display systems, mass memories and systems-level-software. 

PAYLOAD - Payloads
Payloads coordinates onboard and ground system interfaces between the flight control team and payload user, and monitors in-cabin and cargo bay systems experiments and satellites. 

FAO - Flight Activities Officer
The FAO plans and supports crew activities, checklists, procedures and schedules and plans/manages the orientation of the shuttle in space. 

EECOM - Emergency, Environmental and Consumables Operations Manager
The EECOM is responsible for passing and active thermal control of the vehicle, cabin atmosphere control, avionics cooling, supply/waste water system management and fire detection/suppression. 

Flight Director console at Shuttle Control 

Row 4
INCO - Instrumentation and Communications Officer
The INCO plans and monitors in-flight communications and instrumentation systems configuration, and controls shuttle television systems from the ground. 

FLIGHT - Flight Director
FLIGHT serves as leader of the flight control team, and is responsible for overall shuttle mission and planeload operations and all decisions regarding safe, successful flight conduct. 

CAPCOM - Spacecraft Communicator
CAPCOM servers as primary communicator between flight control and astronauts. the initials are a holdover from earlier manned flight when Mercury was called a capsule rather than a spacecraft. 

PDRS - Payload Deployment and Retrieval Systems
PDRS monitors operation of the remote manipulator system, or robot arm, used to deploy, retrieve and position satellites and other cargo in the payload bay. 

Row 5
PAO - Public Affairs Officer
PAO provides mission commentary to supplement and explain air-to-ground transmissions and flight control operations to the news media and the public. 

MOD - Mission Operations Directorate
The MOD provides a link from the Flight Control Room to top NASA and mission managers. 

The Russian Interface Operator, Booster Systems and Extravehicular Systems occupy the next console, depending on time and/or type of mission. 

RIO - Russian Interface Operator
The RIO serves as the primary interface between the United States and Russian control teams. 

BOOSTER - Booster Systems
BOOSTER monitors and evaluates the main engines, solid rocket boosters and external tank performance during pre-launch and ascent phases of the missions. 

EVA - Extravehicular Systems
EVA monitors all aspects of the spacewalks based out of the shuttle and station. This includes monitoring the technical operations of the spacesuits and the activities to be carried out as trained prior to mission. 

SURGEON - Surgeon
The SURGEON monitors crew health, provides crew consultations, coordinates crew medical operations and advises the Flight Director of any related issues that may affect mission success. 

Holly and I at EGIL

Thanks for this amazing tour. But tell me now, how did you become a Flight Controller?
"I always wanted to work for NASA, so I figured that engineering would be the best way to go.  I studied Mechanical Engineering because I was more interested in that subject vs. chemical or electrical.  When I graduated we moved to Houston and I was working at a small company that designed repairs for airplanes.  I kept applying to NASA, and one day they called me wanting to do an interview.  I never dreamed I would be in Mission Control, though."
Persistence! I am sure that's an important part of your tasks now too. What fascinates you about your job?
"So many things – the history of my job is one part of it, watching Apollo 13 and thinking that if that happened today, we would be in their shoes.  We train so much but there are always situations that you can’t prepare for.  I’m fascinated by the people I work with and how clever they are in coming up with new ways to solve problems.  I’m fascinated by the failure is not an option attitude…no matter what the problem is, we’re determined to find a way to solve it.  And we do!  It’s fascinating to think there are people up there and we’re down here monitoring and operating things for them to build a space station."
Did you ever think you would be sitting inside MCC overseeing such an important part of a Space Shuttle mission?
"Never in my wildest dreams.  I knew I’d be at NASA somehow, but I never anticipated I’d be this lucky!"
We are a lucky bunch, that's for sure. What got you interested in space exploration?
 "My Dad was big into science-fiction and we would always watch things like Star Wars and Star Trek.  It’s an interest I’ve had since I was very young, it’s always been there."

Who doesn't like watching Star Wars and Star Trek? Can you tell I am into it as well? But let's not digress. What do you think about the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering Math) and what advice do you have for kids who want to be like you?
"I think the STEM focus is wonderful.  There needs to be more of it.  Those subjects are so important and help the world do so many things…every building, airplane, advances in medicine and computers, they all go back to STEM.  STEM makes the world run.  Without scientists or engineers, where would we be?  Advice I have for kids….first of all, be sure of what it is that you want.  Then make a plan of how to get there.  I knew I wanted to work at NASA, so I made a plan to get a degree in engineering.  Then, stick to that plan.  There were times when I didn’t like a class or didn’t do well on a test and got frustrated, but you have to keep your eye on your goal and not give up.  I had family members tell me that I couldn’t be an engineer because I was a girl! Ignore those people!  So I think those three things are the best advice that I can give:
1) Figure out what you want  
2) Make a plan of how to get there  
3) DON’T GIVE UP and don’t think you can’t do something because of your gender/race/etc!  Believe in yourself. "
Wow Holly - you truly are another big inspiration and I cannot wait to share your stories with others over the next few weeks and months. Thanks again for taking me around. 
This is CAPCOM. Houston out!

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