Tag Archives: JSC

STS-107 Disaster in Mission Control

As those who know me have already gathered, I’m a NASA geek, specifically a Mission Control geek. Though they don’t make it space, but the engineers and technicians in Mission Control and at the other NASA centers make the human spaceflight program possible.

The video below breaks my heart. It was taken in what is called the White Flight Control Room in Building 30 at Johnson Space Center in Houston, on February 1, 2003 as Columbia was making her way from orbit to earth.  What you hear is the conversations between the controllers and the Flight Director as they read the clues and gather the data and come to the realization that something has gone terribly wrong. These are men and women who have dedicated their lives to the safe operation of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station.

Watch this video, watch it again, see and hear the anguish in the voices of the controllers, see how they keep on doing their jobs even as they realize that the worst has happened to their friends, colleagues, and indeed, the entire space program. Then think that 10 years have gone by since this happened, we still have a manned outpost in space and we’re working on getting out of low Earth orbit once again. The people in this room are those who are getting us there, a fact which gives me tremendous comfort!

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The Space Shuttle Columbia Lifted Off 10 Years Ago Today for the Final Time

Ten years ago today, the space Shuttle Columbia lifted off for the final time. When the liftoff occurred, no one knew that it would be here final departure from the planet. Rather, it was the start of a science mission scheduled to last about two weeks. Onboard the orbiter were seven astronauts:

  • Commander Rick Husband
  • Pilot William McCool
  • Mission Specialist David Brown
  • Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla
  • Payload Commander Michael Anderson
  • Mission Specialist Laurel Clark
  • Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon

About 82 seconds after lift off, a large piece of the insulating foam on the external tank came loose and hit leading edge of Columbia’s left wing. This incident was captured on the film of the launch as a white streak training away from the wing as the shuttle ascended. Over the next two weeks, the crew flawlessly executed their mission, knowing that something had struck the wing, but not knowing that this impact would cause the end of their lives.

On the ground, at Mission Control in Houston and at other NASA Centers, some engineers were not so certain that the impact hadn’t caused damage. In the end, however, there wasn’t much done to investigate the effects of the impact. Truthfully, nothing could have been done to repair the damage.

Wayne Hale, a Flight Director at Mission Control and leader in the Shuttle program, has written a series of blog posts over the past several months examining the totality of the Columbia disaster, which are definitely worth a read. See his blog at waynehale.wordpress.com for his insights.

Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to post more thoughts on the Columbia disaster, its place in history, and other related topics.

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STS-135 JSC #NASATweetup

On July 19th, NASA gave me the chance of a lifetime for the second time. I was lucky enough to be selected as a participant of a #NASATweetup at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Space Shuttles were launched from Florida at Kennedy Space Center and landed either there or at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The missions were planned and controlled, the Astronauts trained and prepared for, and most other preparations made at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

I previously attended the #NASATweetup at JSC during the STS-132 mission in May of 2010 and had a wonderful time. It was an amazing experience and I didn’t think I would ever have the chance to top it. Well, in late June, NASA announced a tweetup during the STS-135 mission at JSC. I had already done the tweetup and didn’t want to take up a space for someone who had not had the experience. However, there was an enticement in the announcement that made me reconsider. The participants in the STS-135 JSC Tweetup would get to take a flight in the motion based simulator used by Astronauts to train for missions. This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity because the simulators would be decommissioned the week after the tweetup as there were no more missions to train for because of the end of the Space Shuttle program.  I couldn’t pass this opportunity up. I put in my application on June 28th and awaited the promised response on July 5th.

I’ll spare you the details, but the short version of the story is that I didn’t get a confirmation until Thursday, July 14th at about 0700. The tweetup was scheduled for the follow Tuesday, July 19th, so I had to beat feet to make it happen. Long story short, I was able to get the arrangements made at minimal cost, so on Monday,July 18th I headed to Houston. Arriving late in the evening, I arrived at my hotel and thought I would sleep before the tweetup, but forgot that the Shuttle’s final ever undocking from the ISS would occur early the next morning. I was appalled to find that NASATV wasn’t included in my motels TV line up, so I got the computer running and watched. I watched until Atlantis had safely undocked from the ISS and headed to bed.

Waking up a few hours later, I rounded up my equipment and headed off to JSC. In the parking lot, I looked over the horizon and it didn’t look good. 

Entering the Gilruth Center, I came across some old friends who I had met at previous tweetups; I met new folks who had never been to a NASATweetup before; it was an amazing group of 30 people who were there to geek out on the Shuttle Program. Even my friend Camilla_SDO was there.

I was assigned to the Blue bus, which all knowledgeable people know was the cool bus. We headed off to Building 16, home of the SAIL lab and OV-095. It happened to be across the street from Building 30, home of Mission Control. It was recently named of Christopher Kraft, who literally invented Mission Control. We headed inside to find that against all odds, the majority of the staff was supporting the ongoing STS-135 mission. They were busy analyzing the late inspection data that has been sent down over night and weren’t available to show us around. I want to say that I fully support this allocation of resources. They were able to spare a couple of folks to give us a brief tour and we were able to do a couple of simulated dockings to the ISS.

Here is the RPOP screen used by the Rendezvous Officer in the Mission Control Center to monitor the progress of rendezvous between the orbiter and the ISS.

From here, we went to the Saturn V building. If you’ve never seen a Saturn V rocket before, it’s an amazing experience. Over 300 feet tall, enough power to get men to the moon and designed by engineers using slide rules! It’s an amazing piece of technology!

Look at the size of the bell of one of the five engines in the first stage:

From there we went to Building 17, to visit the food lab where meals are developed for the Shuttle and the ISS. On the way in the building, we came across the official NASA Airlock. When the doors open, you’re on the moon.

The Space Food Systems lab, run by Vickie L. Kloeris,  was awesome. Ms. Kloeris explained the specific requirements and needs of food in space and how that changed when the ISS came online. She had great stories for us and told us how the astronauts select their food. She also talked about the shelf life of space food and how the ISS astronauts are eating food that’s beyond it’s “best if consumed by” dates.

Ms. Kloeris really captivated the group.

Examples of space food:

From there, we headed to the

We were taken into the room of the motion based simulator, which the astronauts, specifically the commanders and pilots, use to train for launches and landings. Sitting on a hydraulic base, the simulator can tilt on its back to simulate launch and, I’m told, does a great job of simulating the actual feeling of launch.

In this photo, the cabin of the motion based simulator is tipped up for launch

The MBS is fitted with a cockpit set up like an orbiter’s and can be used in either in isolation or can be linked into to Mission Control simulations as well.

At the MBS, we had the chance to meet astronaut Clay Anderson, who has done an expedition on the ISS and also was a Mission Specialist on STS-131, which I saw launch from KSC. I was wearing my STS-131 polo shirt, which I’ve worn to al my NASATweetups. Clay noticed the shirt and pointed it out.

In the same building as the Motion Based Simulator is the Fixed Base Simulator. From the outside, it looks like a bunch of blocks put together by my three year old son. On the inside, it’s a full orbiter flight deck, mid-deck, and WCS setup.

Storage bins in the mid-deck from the outside and the inside, as demonstrated by Michael Grabois, a FBS trainer and Space Tweep.

Up on the flight deck, I got to climb into the Commander’s seat and take a look out the “window.”

Here are the CDR’s screens. Engine stats on the left and flight instrumentation on the right.

On the aft flight deck, our neighbors to the north are represented on the control panel for the SRMS, otherwise known as the CanadaArm.

Michael then took us into the trainer for the Waste Collection System, otherwise known as the space toilet! I was the guinea pig and demonstrator. There are more of these pictures on my flickr set, so I’ll just give you a single example of my embarassment.

Ater the WCS training, it was my group’s turn to fly the MBS. We climbed in and participated in a simulated launch and landing. I was the flight engineer and got to make callouts for important mission milestones. It was awesome. Here was the view from my seat:

Here I am in my seat, preparing for launch!

In the hallway of the building, there is a mission plaque from every shuttle mission from the Approach and Landing tests to STS-135. Coincidentally, the plaques for STS-51L (Challenger) and STS-107 (Columbia) are right across the hall from each other.


Riding on the MBS was an experience I will never forget. It was beyond description, a ride I will never forget, and unfortunately, one that few others have had the chance to experience.

Form there, we headed to the JSC cafeteria for lunch. While in line for my burger, I met an ISS propulaion engineer and we talked about moving the ISS as well as the photos taken by the Souyz crew on STS-134 and the stack rotation for the STS-135 shuttle flyaround. It was awesome to chat space with an actual rocket scientist. Others in our group saw STS-125 Astronaut Mike Massimino.

After lunch, we went to the neutral buoyancy laboratory, a 6.2 million gallon pool used by Astronauts to train for spacewalk. It is the most clear pool I’ve ever seen and the water is completely filtered every 19 hours. The pool is 202 feet (62 m) in length, 102 feet (31 m) wide, and 40 feet 6 inches (12.34 m) deep. It’s truly amazing!

Here’s the full sized underwater mockup of the Shuttle payload bay

There was training going on in the pool while we were there and one of the astronauts came to the surface to speak with his trainers. It was awesome to see an EMU in use!

We then headed to Building 30, Mission Control Center. Honestly, I would be happy with a Mission Control Tweetup, so it was cool to head over there! We started in the viewing room for the White Flight Control Room, where the ongoing shuttle mission was being controlled. It was an honor just to be there. We met Flight Director Ed VanCise (aka @Carbon_Flight), Rendezvous Officer Sara Ruiz (aka @saroy), and NASA Public Affairs Officer Josh Byerly. It was a great experience, though we were kind of in a ruch.

Just as Sarah started to talk to us about how the Flight Control room and Flight controllers work, we got s surprise call, FROM SPACE.  Astronaut Ron Garan (@Astro_Ron) called from the International Space Station to say hi and that he hoped we were having a good tweetup. (Sarah describes the experience of being interrupted on her blog.) It was amazing because it was so extraordinary to be talking to space, but we were doing it in such a mundane manner. Ron used a IP phone on the ISS to call the mobile phone of one of our hosts. It was amazing. One of my fellow tweeps, Charles Atkeison (@absolutspaceguy), caught most of the call on video. His report on the call was featured on CNN iReport. I’m working on getting the video embedded, but until I do, here’s the link http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-639195

I’m sad to say that most of my photos in the White Flight Control Room didn’t come out too well, because I was shaking from the coolness of just having talked to space and the fact we couldn’t use a flash. My WFCR photos from the STS-132 NASATweetup are better. From there, we went to the FCR2, where many of the Gemini, Apollo, and early shuttle missions were controlled. I sat in the seat the Flight Director Gene Kranz sat in when men first landed on the moon. There’s a scene in Apollo 13, where Ed Harris, playing Mr. Kranz, says, “All Right People, Listen Up!” This is my impression of that scene. Note the huge smile on my face.

While in building 30, we walked down a hall by the Mission Evaluation Room. This is the big back room that is used by controllers to work problems and make sure things are going according to plan. I like this room, among other reasons, because of the flags…

 After Building 30, we headed to Building 9, otherwise known as the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. My friend Lucie Delheimer (@lucied_inthesky) works in the building came down to visit us. We were shown around the ISS mockups by Astronaut Scott Kelly, who has flown on two Space Shuttle missions and was the commander on the ISS. He also showed us the Soyuz mockup in the building. It was very cool. Comparing the size of the shuttle to the size of a Soyuzis like comparing a Hummer to a Smart Car. Where the Shuttle has room to move around, the Soyuz is cramped. It’s a sharp contrast. We also were shown a couple of mockup of the Orion capsule, which is the next generation US Space Capsule. It was pretty cool!

One of the most moving things of the whole day was seeing the tribute to the lost crews in the SVMF.

All in all it was a great day! I enjoyed the opportunity tremendously and was so excited to be chosen. All of the participants chose to sign the welcome poster as a thank you to our hosts!

Oh yeah, I got to meet one of my twitter heros Sara Hemenway (@6thgradersrule). She rocks!

See my full Flickr set at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jotulloch/sets/72157627266641536/


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Space Related Birth Announcements

So I’m trying to come up with something space related that we could tweak into a birth announcement for our daughter. What comes to mind first is @saroy’s pumpkin pie recipe in the style of a Rendezvous timeline, but I don’t know what would be appropriate. I’d love something like a MCC Checklist or timeline, but I’m open to anything else as well. I don’t know if this will work, but am hoping that my spacetweeps will be able to help!

The standard fields that would need to be included are:

  • Name
  • Date & Time
  • Weight
  • Height
  • Location

Obviously, these fields can (and should) be renamed to something more spacey (i.e. Date and time would be launch date, launch time), but I don’t know the way to go. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Comment here or ping me on Twitter if you have ideas.



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Brunch with a Rubber Chicken

Today, an amazing thing happened. Two separate groups of space tweeps gathered together to share a meal, each other’s company, and a love of space. In Houston, the gathering happened to celebrate the fact that NASA’s own Tweetup mistress Stephanie @Schierholz was in town working the STS-134 mission. I imagine Stephanie’s presence was more of a catalyst than a requirement for this gathering, but nonetheless, space tweeps gathered to celebrate space and each other.

Just about 2000 miles away and a couple of hours later, I attended a gathering in Sausalito, CA. This was an informal gathering to celebrate the success of the BTS-1 Mission and the successful recovery of Camilla_SDO, Astro Fuzz, and Skyebleu from the Louisiana Bayou they landed in. We were also celebrating the successful recovery of the Inspiration Capsule from the land of FedEx, where it had disappeared. The group that gathered for this celebration was truly astounding. Each of the 10 of us who were there shared a love of space, a great sense of humor and a desire to share the wonders of space travel with all who are willing to listen.

It was amazing couple of hours to spend with fellow space tweeps. We talked about many things and Camilla, Fuzz, and Skye regaled us with stories of their flights to 78,000+ feet and their unplanned journey through the Louisiana Bayou. Fizzviic brought us both away from and back to reality with her seriously “off the wall sense of humor.” Pillownaut preached the gospel of social media and how NASA and its contractors could more effectively use it to spread the word about what space travel has done for the general population. Danny.Skarka opined on how NASA TV could more effectively spread the message of NASA and space exploration. NatachaC told us about the NASA Flight Surgeon corps and had a bit of bacon before the food arrived. AstroIvy told us about working at NASA Ames and writing software for Mission Control using Java. RomeoCh told of being on the recovery team for BTS-1 and the over 250 mosquito bites he received while searching for the Inspiration Capsule in the Bayou. Also there were Herrea, k0leslaw, and Jayjum, but in my sleep deprived state, I can’t recall their stories (My apologies for that).

All told, it was a great event and a chance to meet people who I have followed and talked with on the interwebs. It was a great morning! I’ve posted some photos on my Flickr page.

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STS-107 – 8 Years Ago Today

On my 25th birthday, the Space Shuttle Columbia launched on the STS-107 mission to do research on myriad topics in low earth orbit. I remember hearing about the launch, but was very involved in my job and didn’t have the chance to watch it. I had a new job and was quickly learning how to do things in a fast paced legislative environment.

Fast forward two weeks, to the evening of January 31, 2003. It was a Friday night and I had dinner with some friends as my wife was out of town. We got in to one of those “Where were you when” conversations.  I talked about the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, they talked about several events that they remembered, and the discussion settled down to January 28, 1986. On that fateful morning, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch. My friends and I talked about where we were, how we felt, and how it changed us. We spent a good deal of time talking about these topics, after which, I headed home.

The next morning, I woke up and headed the 60 or so miles to work. About 1/2 way there, I turned the radio on to NPR and they were discussing the landing of the Columbia. I started listening, expecting it to be a routine 3 or four minute broadcast of the landing. It was a snowy day, so I was paying more attention to driving than I was the radio, but it slowly sank in that they were still talking about Columbia NOT landing, rather than the smooth landing I expected. The remainder of the trip, I was glued to the radio, trying to take in all that was going on.

I got to work and turned on the TV in my office and rather than getting any work done, as was my plan, I was glued to CNN watching the story unfold. I remember hearing the capcom, who I think was Charlie Hobaugh, saying, “Columbia, Houston, Comm Check…” over and over again with no response. Obviously, there was something wrong…

I’m thankful for the Columbia disaster in many ways because it rekindled my interest in space and human space flight. I’ve watched every launch and most landings since then and found a great community of space tweeps. I’ve been able to help my son develop an awareness and a love of space. I’ve experienced a launch in person and visited Mission Control in Houston.

Even though a lot of good has come from the tragedy, I find myself down today. I’m reading all these reports from people who work at NASA and where they were on this day 8 years ago. Most of them express sadness, some express hope, but the sadness gets me today. I look over at the pictures of the Apollo 1 crew, the crew of STS-51L, and the STS-107 crew and I feel that we could have done better by them. I hope that we will continue to learn from the mistakes we collectively made that cost them their lives.

I hope that we will be able to live up to their legacy.

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Links for 2011-01-04

Possible cause for ET-137 stringer damage found – http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2011/01/sts-133-et-137-investigation-boosted-potential-root-cause/

What’s up with the Countdown in Monday’s HIMYM episode? – http://blogcritics.org/video/article/the-how-i-met-your-mother/

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