Week 22
November 8 - 12, 2004

This week was our first week of Shuttle training. We spent a lot of time in a classroom. It wasn't so bad, except the room was absolutely freezing. I had to wear a sweatshirt all week. Brrrr. We had two classes a day on a variety of subjects. Each class lasts about 3 hours. This will pretty much be how we spend our time for the next few months, except when we travel to the NASA centers. We still have a few of those left to see.

Monday we started off with an overview of the Shuttle and all its systems. It was a high level briefing mostly geared for us to get familiar with the big picture of the Shuttle systems (electrical, environmental controls, rocket engines, etc.) and be exposed many of the terms and acronyms that are used. In the afternoon we had a class on orbit operations. This class covered the types of activities that go on during a Shuttle flight - how you reconfigure the vehicle to change it from a rocket to a lab, the types of experiments that are performed, spacewalks, using the arm, and how to configure the Shuttle when the mission is over and you now need to change from a lab to an entry vehicle. More big picture information. Following the Shuttle classes, I had a Russian lesson.

Tuesday morning started off with a really "fun" class - orbital mechanics, i.e., the physics of objects in orbit. In spite of being in the space biz, it is has been awhile since I have done any orbital mechanics since there are legions of people whose job it is to worry about the orbital mechanics of our spacecrafts. Luckily, we don't need to know all the nitty, gritty details of the math (at least, not at the moment), just the basics. I am glad that I had some familiarity with the basics already. I think some of my classmate's heads were spinning by the end of this class.

The afternoon's class was on crew habitability. Crew habitability is the catch phrase for all the things do with living in space - eating, sleeping, being able to configure areas for working, and, yes, using the bathroom. Suffice it to say that there is not a lot of privacy on the Shuttle. You had better be friends with your crewmates.

Tuesday ended up being a long day. After the regular day of classes, I was scheduled to do a night flight in the T-38. Flying at night is one of the last requirements in our T-38 syllabus. I was supposed to start the pre-brief at 4:30 and take off at 6:00, but my pilot didn't show up until 6:00. I guess I can't really complain about his being late, since he is the big boss of the astronauts. I know he is quite busy at work. We had a little trouble getting off the ground. We were told which plane we were to fly, but when walked out to the flight line, but plane wasn't there. One of the other folks flying that night had taken our plane. I am not sure how that happened. Not having the plane we were expecting isn't such a big deal, except that I had filed our flight plan with the tail number of the original plane we were expecting to fly. So, that meant that I had to change the tail number real-time with the folks in the tower. And, because "our" plane had already taken off, our flight plan wasn't in the system anymore. I think I managed to do a good job of confusing the tower folks.

Once we got our tail numbers and flight plans straightened out we were ready to go. Or so we thought. We started up the engines and noticed that the hydraulic system associated with the left engine wasn't reading the correct pressure. It never got within limits, so we couldn't fly that plane. We shut down and went searching for a spare T-38. Luckily, there was one available. We quickly decided that even though we were in yet another plane, we weren't going to change our tail number on our flight plan. We definitely didn't need to go through another dance with the tower. We proceeded to strap into the new plane, which is a little challenging when it is dark. Actually, it was probably good that we had to change planes. I got more practice with the buckles and configuring the plane in the dark. Finally, finally we got of the ground. We had planned to fly over to Lake Charles and back. I think the tower or air traffic control was still a bit confused as to who we were and where we were going because they started directing us in the wrong direction and told us our squawk code was wrong. Ah, well, lots of comm practice for me. . . Eventually we were able to execute our flight plan.

Night flying is interesting. On this particular night there was no moon out, so it was very dark. There are roughly six different controls for adjusting various levels in the cockpit - different controls for the instrument lighting, for spot lights, for the comm system, etc. It can be a challenge to keep up with them all. As your eyes adapt to the dark, you tend to want to keep turning down the light levels, so I found myself constantly adjusting the lights. Even though we had difficulties starting our flight, once we were in the air we had a very smooth and enjoyable flight.

We had two more classes on Wednesday. Today we had one class on all the documentation (checklists, charts, reference data, etc.) that one uses during a Shuttle flight. It was interesting to see the changes that have occurred in some of the nomenclature and symbology in the procedures since I used to spend my time writing the robotics procedures so many years ago. But, by and large, most everything is pretty much the same, so I won't have too much new to learn conceptually when it comes to how procedures are laid out. Now, actually learning the procedures is another story. . .

Our other class was on ascent trajectories (both nominal and contingency). This class was an introductory lecture that covered the various types of trajectories that the Shuttle can fly during a normal launch sequence and during a variety of abort scenarios. As you might expect, there are many different types of failures that are planned for during a launch and, therefore, many different types of ways that the Shuttle can either reach orbit (either the one that the mission called for or a different, safe orbit) or return to the ground (either back at KSC, over in Europe, or on the west coast of the U.S.) safely. We learned about the major events and milestones for each type of trajectory.

Thursday was Veteran's Day, so we had a holiday. But we finished up the week on Friday with two classes on the Space Station. Even though we aren't going to begin our Space Station training for another few months, we had some introductory classes this week. We had one class on an overview of the Space Station - its modules, which countries built them, when they launched or are suppose to launch, what the major systems are, etc. No, this was not a difficult class for me. In fact, I probably had a better handle on all the politics and management of the Station with respect to our International Partners than the person teaching the class did. But, I guess that is to be expected since the teacher came from the operations world and not the program management world (where I came from). The other class covered Space Station operations, or rather, who does what when, what vehicles can launch to the Space Station, who is involved on the ground, what happens on the Station, etc. Again, it was another class in which I was already quite familiar with the material. Not a bad way to end a week - with classes that aren't too taxing. Next week we are traveling again, but after that it is pretty much nothing but Shuttle classes through the end of the year, and the occasional T-38 flying to keep up skills/complete the syllabus.

© Shannon Walker   2004

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Revised 12-16-04