Watching A Live Launch vs. Flying a Simulated One

After watching the real thing from only a bone-shaking 3 miles away a little over a week ago, now I’m off to something a little better and a little worse. I get to try the shuttle simulator at Houston. A little worse because it’s only a simulation, but much better because instead of just watching, I get to take the wheel.

Luckily, since I’m not great with words, a journalist just went through the experience

There’s only one motion-based Shuttle simulator, and it’s at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Woohoo! This fires the anticipation. I cannot wait to try out what is the ultimate video game. I have zero pilot experience, so I just may end up immediately nose-diving into hypothetically the world’s most expensive twisted pile of wreckage, but I’m okay with that. “I test drove the Space Shuttle” is so amazing it wasn’t even on the bucket list of my wildest dreams.

The Shuttle is unquestionably the world’s least efficient, most expensive and fastest glider.

Astronaut Doug Wheelock called it ‘a cinderblock with stubby wings” when he spoke to us last week. I’ve also heard it called a brick, a set of keys, and a piano. I appreciate the sense of humor, but the reality is setting in. How can I hope to make a non-humiliating showing?

The pilot flies the Shuttle with a short-throw, fly-by-wire hand controller mounted on a pedestal. It looks fairly conventional, but it has at least one function you may not recognize. It incorporates a third direction of travel in addition to pitch and roll. In space, without the benefit of an atmosphere, the Shuttle can be maneuvered thru its yaw axis,

About now I’m reminded of an old Far Side comic. And I’m Ginger. I do, however, feel that I could, right now, successfully pilot the shuttle at launch. That’s because

Everyone aboard the Shuttle is a passenger during the launch, as the entire process—liftoff to orbit—is computer controlled.

If we are lucky enough to ride through a launch, they say the simulation is pretty accurate but not quite as violent as a real launch. I am completely ready to have my filling shaken out!

For de-orbit, the shuttle starts by flipping over b/c it had been flying on its back, and heads down with the nose up from 40 to 70 degrees to let the belly absorb the heat of reentry.

After the final aero-braking turn, the computer levels the wings and lowers the nose, and what was once a spacecraft becomes an aircraft once again.

When talking about gliders, the ratio of forward motion to descent is important. A glider may lose one foot of elevation for 10 feet of forward motion, or a 10 to 1 ratio. Some really efficient gliders are 70 to 1.

At hypersonic velocities in the upper atmosphere, above about Mach 5 and 200,000 feet, the Shuttle glides at a 1:1 ratio, one foot of forward travel for each foot of descent, about the same as a Steinway. That increases to 2:1 at supersonic velocities and improves to about 4.5:1 when you’re on final approach.

Yep, you just basically drop. If it’s amazing that the shuttle doesn’t splat on every landing, it’s precisely because the crew has practiced over and over in the very simulator I’ll be trying.

From here on, the idea is to keep the “flight path marker on the guidance diamond” or vice versa. And most importantly,

“If you don’t catch the rising triangles and begin your flare before they reach the middle of the HUD, you’re going to be low, and of course, you don’t have any power to recover.”

Of course. It’s so simple. I’m ready! I’ll just keep my flare markers over, wait, was it diamonds or triangles? I just hope there aren’t octagons or straight slashes. Wait, are those circles? No one mentioned circles! Mommmmmmmy!




About rennawarren

I've won a spot for the STS-135 NASA Tweetup. I'm going to try to document the experience.
This entry was posted in Images, Tweetup experience. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Watching A Live Launch vs. Flying a Simulated One

  1. davecgibson says:

    LOVE this post! I hope you have a terrific trip, and that if you crash the shuttle (you will, the folks running the sim can be evil) I hope it’s a SPECTACULAR crash.

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