Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Callsign: HOUSTON


Seeing Mission Control Center Houston (MCC-H) abuzz with activity and visual updates is such an amazing experience! The JSC organizers timed all of our visits to various sites, and thought ahead to herd us Twits into the MCC just in time for the daily wake-up call! I had only seen and heard these on NASA TV before.

Our host was John McCullough, the new Chief of the Flight Director Office, part of the Mission Operations Directorate. He has been a flight controller, flight director, and is now, in essence, king of the all the FDs.

John oversees the mission operations teams, who are dedicated to safely planning, training for and executing missions for NASA human space flight. He offered details of the MCC seating configuration, and the meanings of all the fields, alerts and maps on the giant overhead screens.

Mission Control Houston
John McCullough, Chief Flight Director
Also: Scott Stover (sitting), Flight Director on duty

He also answered some of the basic operational questions, such as:

How many people work in Mission Control?
There are about 50 people per team, on three teams who each work 9-hour shifts. Alongside them are engineers who support specialized problems, if they arise. Each team has their own FD and CapCom (Capsule Communicator, still so-called, even though they are no longer communicating with "capsule" type crafts).

What do controllers do between missions?
About 10% of overall work time is spent on live missions. About 75% of any controller's time is spent planning and organizing missions down to the last precise detail. The remaining 15% is dedicated to training – running simulations of missions in attempts to predict any possible glitches, and developing procedures for handling any conceivable eventuality.

One of the women in our crowd asked specifically, "What is the wake-up song today?" and of course, John gave the standard reply that no one knows until it plays (at least, none of us riff-raff who aren't involved in cuing it up). We didn't have long to wonder – this happened next, and a funny follow-up to the woman's question:

So, the crew of Space Shuttle Endeavour awoke at 4:17 p.m. EST to the song "Oh Yeah" by Johnny A., played for Mission Specialist Steve Robinson. Also check out Astro_Soichi's Twit Pic of "Stevie Ray" in the new cupola.

Shuttle Mission Control pictures have been added to the JSC Tweetup Gallery, and be sure to scan the walls in the pics and video for the awesome STS-130 banner we all got to sign!