Going to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston for my capstone project with NASA, was one of the coolest experiences of my professional life. We had the opportunity to go inside the International Space Station (ISS) Module, sit in on a flight control training simulation, interview multiple thought leaders at NASA and of course get some matching NASA sweat shirts.
I was really enamored by our host (Donna) who knew the answers to all our questions and arranged for us to meet a lot of influential and intelligent people who work at NASA. With ISS being an international mission, I was pleasantly surprised by how cooperative every country is when working together in space. For example, if a toilet breaks in the NASA module of the ISS, astronauts can just use the one in the Russian Soyuz.
Inside the International Space Station (ISS) Mockup
The ISS was HUGE (200m long)! We were allowed to go inside some of the ISS modules and sit in the pilot seat of the space craft module. Astronauts use 2000+ controls to make the shuttle fly! There was velcro on every surface to make objects stay in place in zero gravity. We also saw some of the latest projects NASA is working on, like Orion’s experiment on doing surgery in space.
Observing and intercepting a flight control training simulation
We spent 6 hours watching a flight control simulation, where trainers sitting in a room controlled what flight controllers sitting in mission control saw, observed and intercepted. It was almost like the trainers had scripted a play- deciding when to simulating breaking a computer, cutting off power supply, etc. and flight controllers in mission control had to figure out how to fix it.
The most interesting thing about the simulation was the way flight controllers communicated. They had headsets with multiple voice loops (sometimes up to 11 voice loops) playing at the same time. To someone completely new to this process this sounded and looked very complex and confusing, but trainers were not even phased when listening to so many loops at once.
Talking to Flight Controllers, Trainers, Flight Ops, CAPCOM and more
Talking to a wide range of people with different roles we learnt a lot about situational awareness- who has the most knowledge in a given situation. For example, on the ISS astronauts have a better understanding of what is going on (since they are seeing problems first hand). However, in other situations access to a lot of fine detailed data might make flight controllers more aware.
This is just one of the of the many insights we had throughout the trip.
We have to thank our clients/ fun uncles Joe and Dave for setting up interviews, taking us around and getting us access to some pretty cool spaces (like the Neutral Buoyancy lab!).
There was so much to absorb and learn with just three days in Houston. In Dave’s words- “That’s like no time in NASA time”, so we have a long way to go.
My team: Katie McTigue, Megan Parisi, JT Aceron, Nathan Barnhart