Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Armchair Astronauts


Longtime reader and blog supporter Kim of Houston, TX brought my attention to a story about a local pilot who was invited to fly and land in one of the Space Shuttle Simulators. This chap happens to be an ex-Air Force F-16 pilot who has also flown Boeing 737s... nice work if you can get it.

The fabulous first-person essay was featured by Flight Global, and a few other select news outlets who specialize in these sorts of chronicles. I emailed the web content editors, because I thought it was odd that the gentleman's NAME never appears anywhere – as a byline or in his narrative. The photographs that accompany the article are not of him, but of the astronauts training for the upcoming STS-133 mission.

Shuttle Simulators
Hmm, thinks I… why would this someone remain anonymous? I've been in and around Shuttle simulators – both the toy kind at Space Camp, and the real ones in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (isn't that a great oxymoron? A "real simulator", LOL) … but if I had the requisite flight training and even the remote opportunity to pull off something that cool, I would want everyone to know it.

Alas, no one seemed to know his identity. Our mystery pilot takes us through the history of the Space Shuttle program, from Enterprise onward; the aerodynamics of the shuttles, including its capabilities in various maneuvers, and what makes them unique among modern aircraft.

Space Shuttle Simulator
He then tells his own story of being allowed into the SVMF with famed Flight Director Paul Dye (who, for some reason, I always associate with that Shuttle-bat incident… it's weird, what sticks in your head).

His familiarity with different types of simulators was useful for his skillfully tactile descriptions – but it goes without saying he had never been inside one that was capable of rotating to a vertical launch position! (Even if they do still have a "vintage 1980s" vibe, with an "Apollo-type controller" LOL…)

From pre-launch checks to booster ignition, from roll maneuvers to sonic boom and up to Mach 23 in orbit, from flame-out to drag-chute, our narrator is an encyclopedic host of Space Shuttle technology and history. I always wondered… in a simulator, could you truly take the experience seriously, knowing that you were only in a simulator? Our mystery writer comes pretty close; and while it’s a lengthy piece, it’s quality writing, and very well worth the reading time.

Home-made Shuttle Simulator
Or, you know, if you have some serious time on your hands, a huge basement, soldering experience, 6 wooden panels, five spare computers, 32 switches, 64 wires, and a really, really understanding wife, you can be as cool as Todd and build your own full Space Shuttle Flight Deck. Wow.

I have no idea who Todd is. But when I found this page, I wanted to be his friend. I'll bet he's a Firefly fan.