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NASA Facts Mission Control Center

NASA Facts Mission Control Center

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Published by Bob Andrepont

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Jun 24, 2011
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Johnson Space Center
Neil Armstrong, Commander Apollo
Lunar Lander:"Houston, Tranquility Base here,The Eagle has landed."
Those words, the first ever transmitted to Earth by a human being from the surface of the Moon, are testimony to the essentialrole played by the Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The reply, the first ever heard by a manon the Moon, conveys the urgency that permeates the Mission Control during such moments:
Mission Control: "Roger, Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You've got a bunch ofguys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."
Since 1965, the Mission Control Center (MCC) has been thenerve center for America's manned space program. The menand women who work in Building 30 at Johnson SpaceCenter (JSC) have been vital to the success of every mannedspace flight since Gemini
These teams of experiencedengineers and technicians monitor systems and activitiesaboard spacecraft
hours a day during missions, usingsome of the most sophisticated communication, computer,data reduction and data display equipment available. Theywatch every movement the crew and spacecraft make,double-check every number to be sure missions are proceed-ing as expected, and provide the expertise needed to dealwith the unexpected.room. Almost everyone has seen the television pictures ofMCC flight controllers working feverishly at their consoles,headsets in place.The Mission Control Center contains two functionallyidenticalFCRs, one on the second floorand one on the third.Only the third floor FCR is used for missions carryingclassified Department of Defense payloads. Either FCR canbe used for mission control, or they can be used simul-taneously to control separate flights. More often, one team offlight controllers conducts an actual flight while a secondteam cond~icts ighly realistic training, called a simulation or"sim" for short, for a future mission.During the Mercury project, when mission control was atFlight controllers who work in the FCRs represent only the tipCape Canaveral, capsules were controlled almost entirelyof the staffing iceberg in the Mission Control Center. Each offrom the ground. The capsule's manual control systemsthe 20 to 30flight controllers who sits at a console in the FCRserved in most cases as backups to the automated systems,has the help of many other engineers and flight controllersand astronauts relied heavily on ground control for solutionsmonitoring and analyzing data in nearby staff support rooms.to DroblemS that arose. As s~acecraft ecame more complexin'the Gemini years, dependence on the new MCC inHouston lessened slightly. During Apollo, when distanceandcommunications breaks made it necessary, some onboardsystems became prime while othgrs retained their reliance onMCC direction. The frequent missions of the Space Shuttleprogram require a new approach to flight control. Since thecrew monitors most systems using the Orbiter's onboardcomputers, the flight control team's main responsibilities arefollowing the flight's activities and staying ready for majormaneuvers, schedule changes and unanticipated events.Still, from the moment the giant solid rocket boosters igniteat liftoff to the moment the landing gear wheels roll to a stopattheend of a mission, the MCC s the hub of communicationand support for the Shuttle.~ission 0ntr0l'Socal points are the two Flight Control
Mission Control Center is a three-story building at Johnson Space
Rooms, or FCRs (pronounced "Fickers"), where flight
Center (JSC). In it are some of the most sophisticated corn-
controllers get information from console computer displays
munication, computer, data reduction, and data display equipment
or from projected displays that fill the wall at the front of the
If you visit the FCRs, you'll notice initials or names placedatop each console. Theseareabbreviations or each console'sfunction. Each console also has a "call sign," the name thecontroller uses when talking to other controllers over thevarious telephone communication circuits. In some cases,console names or initials are the same as the call signs.Mission command and control positions, their respectiveinitials, call signs, and responsibilities are:
Flight Director
(FD), call sign "Flight," serves as leader ofthe flight control team, and is responsible for overall Shuttlemission and payload operations and all decisions regardingsafe, expedient flight conduct;
Spacecraft Communicator
(CAPCOM), call sign "Capcom,"serves as primary communicator between flight control andastronauts. The initials are a holdover from earlier mannedflight, when Mercury was called a capsule rather than aspacecraft;
Flight Dynamics Officer
(FDO), call sign "Fido," plansmaneuvers and monitors trajectory in conjunction withGuidance Officer;
Guidance Officer
(GDO), call sign "Guidance," monitorsonboard navigation and onboard guidance computer soft-ware;
Data Processing Systems Engineer
(DPS) determinesstatus of data processing system including the five onboardgeneral purpose computers, flight-critical and launch datalines, the malfunction display system, mass memories andsystems-level software;
Flight Surgeon
(Surgeon) monitors crew activities, co-ordinates medical operations flight control team, providescrew consultations, and advises flight director of the crew'shealth status;
Booster Systems Engineer
(Booster) monitors and eval-uates main engine, solid rocket booster and external tankperformance during prelaunch and ascent phases of missions;
Propulsion Systems Engineer
(PROP) monitors andevaluates reaction control and orbital maneuvering systemsduring all phases of flight, and manages propellants andother consumables available for maneuvers;
Guidance, Navigation, and Control Systems Engineer
(GNC) monitors all vehicle guidance, navigation and controlsystems, notifies flight director and crew of impending abortsituations, advises crew regarding guidance malfunctions;
Electrical, Environmental and Consumables SystemsEngineer
(EECOM) monitors cryogenic levels for fuel cells,avionics and cabin cooling systems, electricity distributionsystems, cabin pressure control systems and vehicle lightingsystems;
Instrumentation and Communications Systems Engineer
(INCO) plans and monitors in-flight communications andinstrumentation systems configuration;
Ground Control
(GC) directs maintenance and operationactivities affecting Mission Control hardware, software andsupport facilities, coordinates spaceflight tracking and datanetwork and tracking and data relay satellite system withGoddard Space Flight Center;
Flight Activities Officer
(FAO) plans and supports crewactivities, checklists, procedures and schedules;
Payload Officer
(Payload) coordinates onboard and groundsystem interfaces between the flight control team and payloaduser, and monitors Spacelab and upper stage systems andtheir interfaces with the payload;
Maintenance,MechanicalArm and Crew Systems Engineer
(MMACS), call sign "Max," monitors operation of the remotemanipulator arm and the Orbiter's structural and mechanicalsystem, and follows use of onboard crew hardware and in-flight equipment maintenance;
Public Affairs Officer
(PAO), provides mission commentaryto supplement and explain air-to-ground transmissions andflight control operations to the news media and the public.During missionson which aspacelab module iscarried n theOrbiter's payload bay, an additional flight control position isCommand and Data Management Systems Officer (CDMS),responsible for data processing systems involving Spacelab'stwo major computers. In support of the Spacelab missions,additional responsibilities are borne by EECOM in manage-ment of systems extended from the Orbiter to the Spacelab.Power distribution, life support, cooling, and cabin fansrequire more complex monitoring. Management of cryogensfor fuel cells, also performed by the EECOM, becomesa moresignificant duty for Spacelab missions because of the higherpower levels used, and because consumption must bemonitored and budgeted over a longer period. The DPScontroller works closely with the CDMS officer in monitoringadditional displays covering nearly
is on the second floor and one on the third.
Multipurpose support room (MPSR) groups represent onesupport discipline and encompass planning and supportfunctions. The MPSR groupsarededicated to multiple flightsin order to provide planning expertise for future flights,perform periodic support and systems checks on currentflights, and respond quickly to any in-flight contingency.Operating in conjunction with the FCRs are PayloadOperations Control Centers (POCCs) rom which the ownersof payloads or experiments carried in the cargo bay of theOrbiter can monitor and control their payloads.The Spacelab POCC, located at 'NASA's Marshall SpaceFlight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is the site for continualmonitoring and control of Spacelab experiments and otherattached payloads. It is a command post, communicationscenter and data relay station for principal investigators,mission managers and their support staffs. All decisionsabout payload operations are made and coordinated with themission flight director at the Mission Control Center inHouston, then transmitted to the Spacelab or Shuttle crewfrom the POCC.Free-flying systems that are deployed, retrieved, or servicedin Earth orbit by the Orbiter are monitored by a POCC at theNASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.Private sector organizations as well as foreign governmentsmaintain individual POCCs at locations of their choice forlong-term control of free-flying systems. Payloads withdistant destinations, such as those exploring other planets,are controlled from the POCC at NASA's Jet PropulsionLaboratory, Pasadena, California.
Communication with and tracking of the Shuttle are accom-plished through a combination of the Tracking and DataRelay Satellite System (TDRSS, pronounced "teadruss")which consists of three geosynchronous satellites (the firstwas put into orbit in 1983; the second will be launched in1988; a third, spare satellite, will be launched later), oneground station at White Sands, New Mexico, and the GroundSpace Flight Tracking and Data Network (GSTDN). Whenthe TDRSS becomes fully operational, the ground-basedtracking network will be closed. The NASA communicationsnetwork (Nascom),which will be augmented with a domesticsatellite (Domsat), inks tracking stations with ground controlcenters. The TDRSS provides the principal coverage for allShuttleflights. TDRSS makes it possible to monitor the flightalmost continuously, increasing he probability of experimentsuccess, reducing the need foronboard data storage, andallowing in-flight experiment changes.Mission Control Center issupported by an emergency powerbuilding that houses generators and air-conditioning equip-ment for use if regular powerfails. In heevent acatastrophicfailureshuts down the Houston control center, an emergencyfacility at White Sands Test Facility is activated. Theemergency control center is a stripped-down version of theMCC in Houston, incorporating ust enough equipment to letthe controllers support the flight to its conclusion.
Operating in conjunction with the JSC Mission Control Center FCRsare Payload Operations Control Centers (POCCs).
One of the most interesting of the FCR support facilities is thedisplay/control system, a series of projection screens on thefront wall of the FCR fordisplays ranging from plotting chartsthat show the spacecraft's location, to actual televisionpictures of activities inside the Shuttle as well as views ofEarth, payload deployment/retrieval, and extravehicular (EVA)work by mission specialists. Other displaysshow such thingsas elapsed time after launch, or time remaining before amaneuver or other event.Flight controllers base many of their decisions or recom-mendations on the information given by the display/controlsystem. The real-time computer complex processes telemetryand tracking data to update controllers on Shuttle systems.Controllers can call up stored reference data based onsimulated flights previously conducted as practice for theactual mission.The consoles at which the flight controllers work in the FCR,the MPSR, and the POCC include one or more TV screensand the necessary switches to let the controller view a datadisplay on a number of different channels. The controllermay view the same display being shown on the largeprojection screens on the front wall, or may "call up" data ofspecial interest just by changing channels. A library ofprepared reference data is available to display static informa-tion, while digital-to-television display generators providedynamic, or constantly changing, data.In the future, these traditional consoles will be augmentedwith engineering work stations that provide more capabilityto monitor and analyzedata in support of the increasing flightrate. A further update will change the way computer supportis provided. Instead of driving all flight control consoles witha central main computer, each console will have its ownsmaller computer designed to monitor a specific system.These smaller computers then will be linked together in anetwork so that they can share data.

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