Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Week @ NASA: 21 October 2011

Top Stories on This Week At NASA. Three new flight directors at Mission Control in Houston. The latest on micro-gravity experiments aboard the ISS, Lifetime achievement awards for the Mars Rovers and Two Governors tour NASA facilities.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Space Shuttle

Credit: NASA

This feature-length documentary (narrated by William Shatner) looks at the history of the most complex machine ever built. For 30 years, NASA's space shuttle carried humans to and from space, launched amazing observatories, and eventually constructed the next stop on the road to space exploration.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dinner at the Starship Gallery, Space Center Houston - Part 3

With Harv Hartman in front of the Apollo 17 Command Module. Harv retired as Director of HR at JSC. He joined NASA towards the end of the Gemini program and stayed on until the construction of the International Space Station. He had lots of great stories to tell.

Part 3: You would think it couldn't possibly get any better, but it did! Just to recap the day. We spent the night at The Houstonion Hotel. Had breakfast with Astronaut Terry Wilcutt. Then on the way to JSC we watched episode 5 of From the Earth to the Moon. This episode was about Tom Kelly and the team at Grumman designing and developing the Lunar Module. Our first stop was the Rocket Park where we saw a Saturn V (this one was slated to fly to the Moon as Apollo 18 before the mission was cancelled). Then we walked over to the Astronaut Memorial Grove. Then listened to an awesome lunch presentation on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. We spent the afternoon at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Quite a full day so far, but there was more to come. Jeff Jackson, Dick Richardson, Matt Gray, Terry Willcutt and Harv Hartman had more in store for us. I was in orbit already!

Next, we drove to Space Center Houston (SCH) where we had a classroom session and recapped the key learning's of the day. After that we had some free time to wonder around the SCH. Harv had pointed me to the Space Shuttle Simulator and I decided to give it a shot. On my first try I ended up doing a pretty good landing. Harv was there right next to me and was my witness. Later that evening he announced to the whole class that I had "greased" the landing. I was smiling so hard all evening my jaw was aching the following morning.

We watched a movie of the Apollo 11 moon landing in the Destiny Theater. The discussion there was about the "team" effort needed to get the first men on the Moon. Everyone had a role, played their part and everyone relied on each other. What better example of this than the "1201 alarms" going on during the descent and the back room guys giving Gene Kranz the GO for landing.

Our reception at the Destiny Theater (with wine and appetizers) was followed by an amazing presentation by a scientist who talked about the research being conducted on the ISS. The ISS has been designated a National Laboratory by Congress. It is truly amazing to think that the ISS was launched in 1998 and that we have had a continuous human presence in orbit for over ten years!

We then went on for a private dinner at the Starship Gallery. Yup!

"Faith 7" Mercury Spacecraft flown by Gordon Cooper. This was the last flight of the Mercury program. Cooper flew a total of 22 orbits (May 15-16, 1962).

Apollo 17 was the 6th and last lunar landing and was crewed by Eugene Cernen (Commander), Ronald Evans (Command Module Pilot), and Harrison Schmitt (Lunar Module Pilot).

Apollo 17 Command Module "America"

Apollo EVA Space Suits

Training model of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (AKA "the Moon buggy"). Rovers were used on Apollo 15, 16 and 17.

Moon rocks. Actually touched one.

Interior of Skylab

Among the many fascinating artifacts was this training mock up of the inside of Skylab. This was our first Space Station and was launched in 1973 and deorbited in 1979 after three long duration missions.

I could easily have spent an entire day just in the Starship Gallery

Astronaut on an EVA with the ISS in the background

Training mock up of the Lunar Module (LM)

Robonaut 2 is now aboard the ISS and was launched on STS-133

The main gallery at Space Center Houston has several historical artifacts including space suits.

Prior to the Challenger explosion astronauts wore just flight suits and helmets. After Challenger they switched to the now famous orange pressure suits.

Space Shuttle space suit

Orlan space suit used by the Russians for EVA

We had an amazing day and the best was yet to come - a visit to the historical Apollo Mission Control center and the ISS Mission Control center. That's for Part 4.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory - Part 2

At the NBL with Astronaut Col. Terrence Wilcutt

After lunch we drove to NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) also known as the Sonny Carter Training Facility. This is where the astronauts train for Extra Vehicular Activities (EVA's) - better known as "Space Walks". The NBL training facility is located near Ellington Field (that's where all those cool T-38 aircraft are hangared) and is named in honor of the late astronaut M. L. "Sonny" Carter, who was instrumental in developing many of the current space-walking techniques used by the astronauts. Could not have picked a better place to have a discussion on training and methods and techniques used to build a world class "team".

Entrance to the NBL, the Sonny Carter Training Facility

The NBL is quite impressive. It's 202 feet in length, 102 feet in width and 40 feet in depth and contains 6.2 million gallons of water that is filtered and cleaned every 24 hours. Angie Prince who is the Branch Chief of EVA training gave us a very thorough overview of the NBL and the training that her team and the crews go through. For every hour of actual EVA the astronauts go through seven hours of simulated training in the NBL. Every time they have astronauts in the water she has a full team of physicians, safety divers, camera crew/divers and "mission control" going through all of the details and choreographing every aspect of the EVA. She said that after each training session they debrief in great detail. Every astronaut is "graded" after each training session. She said that the simulations are so "real" that many astronauts have thanked her and her team while on an actual EVA because the training was so close to the real thing. The selection of the training crews and the training they go through for these simulations was at a level I have not encountered before. They set the bar pretty high and then put together a training program to pull everyone involved to that high level. It was absolutely impressive!

I asked if I could suit up - they thought I was kidding

It was truly an amazing place. While we were there two ISS astronauts were undergoing EVA training in the far side of the pool where the ISS mock ups were located. Several times I offered to help and each time I got a huge smile from Terry and Harv. Oh, they new I was quite serious. Terry told me that sometimes they come over and wear their SCUBA gear and swim around the mock ups of the Space Shuttle and the ISS. How cool is that?

The ISS mock ups are at the far end

Mock up of the Shuttle cargo bay and the robotic arm

They hoisted up two astronauts that were training for an EVA 

Angie is the Chief of the EVA Training Branch

We then ended up in "mission control" at the NBL to continue our discussion on the importance of training and how leaders react during a crisis. Several important points to take away. At the NBL the astronauts train until they have gone over each step until its second nature. They sort of  build up "muscle memory". Then they train through emergencies and "off nominal scenarios" (to use a NASA term). That is they train through all of those situations that can happen. This is done because there will always be the possibility that they will encounter a situation that they have not trained for. In those situations, their training kicks in to cover most of the situation while their brain now starts to "solve the problem" that is presented. This is hard to describe in a short blog nor go over in detail the entire discussion that we had. Perhaps the best example of this is what Dick and Jeff presented. When US Air flight 1549 sucked up birds and both engines died, Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger's training kicked in. If you listen to the cockpit voice recordings of his conversations with "ground" and with his "co-pilot" you can clearly note where his training had kicked in and what he was trying to "problem solve". The co-pilot made the takeoff and was "pilot in command" at the time of the bird strike (this is not unusual as the captain and the pilot take turns flying so as to give flight experience to the co-pilots) but when  both engines shut down Sully said "my plane" and took charge of the situation. Now if you go on to listen to the cockpit audio you can hear him try to solve the issue of where he could put down the plane and he was going through the options of each of the near by airports and available runways including  setting the plane down on the Hudson River. At no time do you hear him talk about controlling or flying the plane. That is because he had practiced "engine out" situations enough times in the simulator that his training had kicked in. He knew what to do and how to keep the plane in the air. He was not actively focusing on flying the plane but was actually focusing on going through ALL the available options to find a safe place to to set the plane down. Oh, I could go on an on about this... but it was one of those discussions that makes you really think. A lot of important tid bits to take away and makes you think how you would apply training to your engineers and organization so that they would react appropriately in  time of crisis and help "solve the problem".

Next Part 3: Dinner at the "Starship Gallery" at the Houston Space Center. There is an actual Goddard rocket, Gordon Cooper's "Faith 7" Mercury capsule, Gordon Cooper's and Pete Conrad's Gemini V spacecraft, the Apollo 17 Command Module "America"... and many more...

This Week @ NASA June 17, 2011