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/