Great Wrap Up

This blog here has an excellent collection of video and stills of the landing of Atlantis yesterday.

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Stimulating Simulating

The fourth stop of the NASA Tweetup, after Building 16 (SAIL), the Rocket Park, and the Food Lab, was the main event: the space shuttle motion simulator at the Jake Garn Shuttle Simulator and Training Facility. The fixed shuttle simulator was in the same building, but we were all there, some of us crossing oceans, to ride the motion simulator. The star-bellied sneetches had gotten there before us and were running behind. (That was the refrain all day: we’re running behind.)

They led us down a long hallway lined with plaques from the shuttle missions and photos of each crew. We turned down another hallway lined with even more shuttle plaques. (If you look, you’ll see that the ones on one wall are spaced much closer. They realized well into the 30 year program they were going to run out of wall space if they didn’t squeeze them closer.  By coincidence, the plaques for the tragic Challenger and Colombia missions are directly across from each other.

The Shuttle Motion Based Simulator

Just going past the large silver sign that said Shuttle Mission Simulator was exciting, then we were passing offices where men and women hard at work were the real people who train our astronauts, as recently as a few weeks ago before STS-135’s crew headed to Kennedy for their mission.  Before we knew it, we were there, looking up at the simulator about a story above us, perched on many bowed legs like an AT-AT Walker with arthritis. Or like a lot of motion simulator rides at your local tourist attraction, except they didn’t go to any trouble making the outside look like anything in particular. If you’d like to ride it one day, you probably can’t, because tomorrow it is going to be shut down and sent to Texas A&M. But sadly, they have no room for the motion-based hydraulics. It will be another fixed simulator. What a sad waste.

Practice chairs. Our seat belt demonstration was nothing like those on airplanes. We actually paid attention.

Two practice chairs were in the room, exactly like the ones I saw yesterday morning behind glass at the Houston Space Center. No glass here: we were free to sit, touch, try it out. In a way that is the tweetup in a nut shell: where normally tourists see things behind ropes or glass, we were encouraged to jump right in. (Except for the Neutral Bouyancy Lab, which was a shame because I had my rubber ducky all ready.)

Also waiting in the room was Astronaut Clayton Anderson. My poor astronaut autograph patch is getting cluttered! He entertained us with stories and tidbits. One really got the feeling that he loved the public relations part of the job.  When asked if he ever cried on the shuttle, he didn’t hesitate when he said several times.  He found out his mother’s cancer had returned while in space. On the brighter side, because his wife works at NASA, he talked to her almost at will over  NASA communication lines.

Across the top of the room stretch windows so training exercises can be observed, and the set of lockers looking like they came right out of a regular employee breakroom still had four lockers bearing the names of the STS-135 crew. Commander Chris Ferguson’s locker was on top and he rated a small gold shuttle magnet.

Some of us toured the rest of the facility while waiting our turn in the motion simulator. The fixed simulator is in the same room, and we went there next. Our guides were the real deal: men who trained the astronauts.

We entered the fixed simulator in a mock-up of the mid-deck, which is the main living space. There is a ladder to the flight deck and above are screens to simulate different launch, space, and landing scenarios for training in the cockpit. One wall of the mid-deck is full of drawers, containing things like the astronauts clothes or a tool set that looked pretty normal to me. The galley was not much bigger than an ATM, but since it pretty much only dispenses bags and water, they don’t really need a stove, fridge, and sink.


Then we climbed up to the flight deck and I hopped into what I was sure was the pilot’s seat but it was the commander’s seat. As if that matters. I was sitting, not in some tourist mockup, but in an actual simulator that hundreds of astronauts had used for thousands upon thousands of hours to train for space.

  • Dashboard

Those are my knees!

The control panel between the seats.

Space Toilet

After we came down from the flight deck to let others have a chance, we visited the bathroom. No, not for a personal break. We visited the astronaut training bathroom, where they learn how to go in space. Without gravity, it apparently isn’t easy. There is a camera inside and a screen in front of you when you sit that lets you “check you seal.” Apparently another group refused to sit on the trainer, whereas we all did, even bombarding the poor guy with questions about what women did on their periods. Hey, bodily functions are a reality of life, and more interesting in space because the mundane is difficult. I tweeted that I was sitting on the astro toilet.

The funniest part is that the training bathroom is a real bathroom, so there is a normal, more earthly commode in the room.

Safety Item board

Upon leaving, there was a collection of items on a wall that looked like the result of a scavenger hunt or some private joke. I mean, a cane? But each item was something they needed from time to time. The cane was for moving any electrical wires without getting shocked.

We went back down the hallways with the plaques to the control room for the shuttle simulations. In there, trainers think up problems to throw at the crew, training them over and over until they react immediately and calmly in any situation. As a practical joke on the last mission, the three crew members other than Ferguson worked with the trainers to come up with odd, little known problems to pop up, and they all immediately knew how to fix it. “Oh, that must be a fault sub-bus X-B” or some other obscure fix. Commander Ferguson was surprised that 1) all these weird things were happening and B) that everybody knew just how to fix it but him. Maybe he was worried he didn’t study enough. In the end, they apparently pushed it a bit too far, with some building on the ground catching on fire. Ferguson almost came out of his seat to look out the window, wondering how on earth the pilot Hurley could see that. This story was told both at the launch tweetup and this tweetup, by two different people, so if you don’t think it is hilarious, you apparently are not like the shuttle team.

On the white board in the control room the parameters for the last training session were still written there, precisely because it was the very last training session for the shuttle program and apparently they were reluctant to wipe it off. And now, because I was there, you were there and you can see the final shuttle sim scenario. As you can see from the word “planned” marked out, they weren’t 100% certain it would be the last, but that was the plan. We also got to view the group before us being strapped into the sim.

Then, it was our turn. Back down the hall, up the stairs, into the motion based simulator.

The first part of the simulation was a shuttle launch. We started at about t-2 minutes. From what I heard described, those who see out the windows could see the tower. The simulator put us almost on our backs and then went through the first few minutes of launch. Not all the way to orbit, but long enough. As it was counting down, I was a little worried about how much motion and if I’d get sick. Then I had that fear one gets at the top of the big hill on the roller coasters. “What did I do? I want off.” But it turned out to be for nothing. It shook, but very mildly. I had my camera in my hands the whole time and probably could have unbuckled and leaned over or maybe gotten up. Is it realistic? They said a real launch shakes “more” but that is hard to define.

Looking over at the backrow.

Although apparently the first group each got to land the shuttle, because we were running low on time, our group was divided into 4 teams and only 1 person from each team got to land the shuttle. Two others watched from the back row, and the unlucky fourth person sat way to the side, but couldn’t really see the windows or

The pilot

any displays, so only really got to watch their teammates. I was that unlucky fourth. So 4 of us get to whine because on a scale of 1-10, our day was

My view. 😉 Why did I think about lead dogs and views never changing?

a 999 instead of a 1000. 🙂 My view was of a checklist on the back of the commander’s seat.

But remember that picture of me earlier in the commander’s seat of the simulator? Well, now I know how Jimmy Buffet feels.

Jimmy Buffet, Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger, and Alan Alda

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Landing Photos

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Getting lots of photos of the landing and events afterwards from news, facebook and twitter friends, NASA folks, etc. Will post some here.

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Atlantis Landing In Just a Few Hours

First thing, open NASA TV in another window and watch while you read this. And if you’re looking at mission control, compare to this picture I took yesterday:

There was a window with no signal from Atlantis (on the board you can see the shuttle is where a green circle and yellow circle overlap), so most everyone went on break, which is why the room is almost empty. The Flight Director is still on the job. And was drinking a cup from Wendy’s. (Wendy’s marketing people, I see an opportunity there.) Also, the station near the front is dark b/c that is where those in charge of rendezvous sit, and since Atlantis separated from ISS, that station is done.

Here is the Shuttle Landing Countdown or Landing Timeline so you can follow along at home:

12:39 a.m. Weather briefing
12:54 a.m. Atlantis deorbit preparations begin
2:08 a.m. Closing of payload bay doors
2:18 a.m. Mission Control “go” for Ops 3 software transition
3:08 a.m. Shuttle Training Aircraft takeoff for weather reconnaissance
3:25 a.m. Astronauts suit up
3:48 a.m. Seat ingress
4:15 a.m. Orbital Maneuvering System engine gimble checks
4:26 a.m. Auxiliary power unit prestart
4:28 a.m. Mission Control “go or no-go” for deorbit burn
4:35 a.m. Maneuver to the deorbit burn attitude
3:25 a.m. Astronauts suit up
4:48 a.m. Deorbit burn for 3 min., 17 sec.
5:24 a.m. Entry interface
5:29 a.m. First roll command (to left)
5:41 a.m. First roll reversal(left to right)
5:43 a.m. MILA tracking station radar acquisition of Atlantis
5:53 a.m. Heading alignment circle intercept
5:56 a.m. Atlantis lands at Shuttle Landing Facility Runway 15
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida
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World’s Most Educated Lunch Lady

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to get to meet and hear Vickie Kloeris manager of the Space Food Systems Laboratory at NASA. She’s a microbiologist with a masters in food science.  I’d not given much thought to what astronauts eat before. Perhaps that is why this was one of the most interesting stops for me and for the other tweeters. I tweeted non-stop during her talk b/c it was one interesting tidbit after another. And a few people following me were tweeting back questions. Apparently every one found it intriguing.

First thing you need to know is, there was no Tang. It’s not a NASA product. A childhood belief crushed. I was less saddened to hear that no astronauts eat astronaut ice cream. It’s gross and no one likes it, except gift shops. 🙂

The elevator looked like an airlock and we passed the schedule for the Orion project on the wall. The main difference between space food and regular food is space food is never meant to be eaten immediately. Their concerns are shelf life and nutrition. They tried MREs for a bit but the high salt, fat, etc. weren’t good for long missions.

All beverages are in a foil pack similar to Capri Sun, but have a NASA engineered septum adapter. A modified commercial IV clamp is used to keep the liquid from spilling out in zero g when the astronaut isn’t drinking. For freeze-dried food in clear plastic, once water is added and the food has time to absorb it, they cut open the package and use it like a bowl to eat out of. They cut an X so that the flaps can hold the food in the package. In space, they have to rely on surface tension to keep food in the bowl or on their spoon/fork. Thus they take very small bites. No wolfing it down on the shuttle. They always have some fresh food, but of course it doesn’t last.

The last shuttle mission (which BTW was the LAST shuttle mission) took up about a year’s worth of food. With stores up there, they have about 500+ days of food. All the packages are in English and Cyrillic although the official language on ISS is English.

The "sweet snacks and yogurts" pack, with a phone on it for scale.

The currently print “best by” dates, meaning that after that point it may taste bad, but it’s still safe to eat. They are working now on dates after which they should really just throw it away. It would still be safe, but so bad no one would eat it. She gave the example of black apricots.

They used to let astros pick their own menus, but because of they way things go, astronauts usually ended up not being able to eat their own selections and eating someone elses. Thus they switched to a standardized menu, although each astronaut chooses their own personal box. Those astronauts who put the most thought into their bonus food are the happiest, she said. The most popular package, the “Sweets, snacks and yogurts” pack can only be opened one every 9 days.

When asked about special diets, she told us there have been an occasional vegetarian, but not many and no other dietary restrictions. A vegetarian on the ISS now, she said, would be hurting because all of the meals have meat.

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Rocket Park

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I said in the last post that our next stop after the SAIL in Building 16 was the Food Lab, but it was really Rocket Park. It is a Saturn V rocket housed in a very large building, with a … Continue reading

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Welcome to Johnson Space Center

Started the day by driving to the Gilruth Center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. First of all, we decided that people here can’t give directions. The directions said Gilruth was at the intersection of two streets, when it was really 1.8 miles from that intersection. We decided that in Texas, a mere 2 miles WAS nearly at the intersection, relatively speaking. Also, the Gilruth Center has an almost invisible sign: gray letters on beige cinder blocks. Outside the building was this nifty vintage looking bicycle, as if we’d gone back to the early days of NASA. But then we saw bicycles like that outside almost every building. I never saw anyone biking and they were all retro-looking, so I decided the same person or group bought them and left them out as seed-bikes to encourage bike riding.

But we arrived, in a drizzle, and met our fellow Tweetup attendees, got badges, and goodie bags. Half of our badges had red stars. But, like the Sneetches Without Star Upon Thars, I was in the non-red-star group and we rode the second bus.

Our first stop was Building 16, SAIL (Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory). Inside were several mock-up of various parts of the shuttle, from as simple as a desk with screens about where the screens are in the shuttle cockpit to domed Systems Engineering Simulators with a ceiling like a planetarium that could hold several different kinds of mockups.

The mock ups were what they referred to as low-fidelity. This means they really didn’t try to hard to make them look or feel exactly like the shuttle, but they were good enough for their particular purpose. The different mockups can be moved in or out of the simulator, so one scenario might use the shuttle cockpit, while another the ISS cupola. The shuttle cockpit was currently in the simulator, and I got to push the thruster button. Different people attempted to dock the shuttle with the ISS. Some crashed it, some docked successfully. Even crashing the shuttle isn’t so bad. You can put, “I once crashed the space shuttle in a NASA training session” in your bio.

The display on the ceiling during ISS docking simulation. It was like a planetarium ceiling.

Then we moved on to the Rocket Park and the Food Lab. But that’s another post. And of course everyone signed in with Foursquare to each building along the way.

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