Week 25
November 29 - December 3, 2004


It was back to the books and Shuttle lessons this week. We started off our week with a talk by Chris Kraft on what it took to get to the moon. Chris Kraft was an icon of the early human space flight programs. He worked in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs as well as being involved in the early Shuttle program. He was an Apollo Flight Director and, eventually, the Center Director of JSC. Needless to say, he has an enormous amount of experience and was right in the thick of things when we went to the moon.

It was back to the books and Shuttle lessons this week. We started off our week with a talk by Chris Kraft on what it took to get to the moon. Chris Kraft was an icon of the early human space flight programs. He worked in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs as well as being involved in the early Shuttle program. He was an Apollo Flight Director and, eventually, the Center Director of JSC. Needless to say, he has an enormous amount of experience and was right in the thick of things when we went to the moon.

As you might expect, his talk was very interesting. He compared the previous moon program to current vision in terms of technical and political challenges. The technical challenges that they were able to work through in such a short amount of time were amazing. It is easy to forget how much that they had to invent when so much of their output is incorporated in our current space program. Just to name a few of the bigger challenges - using radar in space, rendezvousing with another spacecraft, landing on the moon, designing a trajectory to get to the moon, and designing rockets - not just big ones, but ones with variable thrust. All these things didn't exist when President Kennedy announced that we would be going to the moon by the end of the decade.

He made one comment that I thought was interesting. He said that while it is good to have some of the folks around now from the Apollo days, they did most of their learning and experience building by making mistakes and that is really what needs to happen now. In his estimation there are still fantastic engineers at NASA (there are some skeptics out there that say otherwise) with much better tools plus the understanding of how things were done before. I really liked listening to his insight on things.

Our afternoon was filled with a class on what we call Entry - how you get back from orbit. This class covered what the entry profiles look like and what navigation equipment you have and when you use it. The Shuttle has inertial measurement units that measure accelerations, a TACAN system, a microwave landing system, an air data system (souped up pitot tubes), and radar. All of this equipment is used at different stages to determine where the Orbiter is. There is also a GPS system, but it is fairly new and will continue to be tested on the next couple of Shuttle flights.

Tuesday morning we had a class on the Data Processing System, or, in other words, the computers that run the Shuttle, how data is transferred to and fro, and how the crew interfaces with them. There are five main computers that run the Shuttle. Being the 70's technology that they are, they have much less computing power than any of the PCs out today. You may wonder why the Shuttle Program doesn't upgrade the computers. The basic reason is that they work. If you put in new computers, the software would have to be rewritten and everything would have to be tested again. Since many stages of flight depend on very precise timing of commands (such as during a launch), it is actually much more risky to try and upgrade rather than sticking with what works.

I didn't have any classes scheduled in the afternoon, so I took the opportunity to take care of some administrative items that I had been ignoring. I also spent a little time and made binder labels. I was getting desperate. I have about five linear feet of training documents that are lurking in binders that all look the same. Now I can find things. Yes, my job is quite glamorous at times. I also did some T-38 review and completed a computer based training module on the Data Processing System. It was a full day, even if I only had one class.

Wednesday morning we had a very long and detailed class on the auxiliary power units and their associated hydraulic systems. Basically this is a lot of pumps and gizmos to move the engines, drive the aerosurfaces, and deploy the landing gear.

This class was followed by a class on navigation. Navigation answers the question "where are we?" This is not to be confused with Guidance which answers the question "where do we want to go?" and Control which answers "how are we getting there?" At any rate, we talked about the inertial measurement units and the star trackers, how they are used and how their information is kept up to date.

In the afternoon I had a class in one of the high fidelity mockups. This class was what they call Crew Cabin Familiarization. Basically, it was an up close look at the equipment and the stowage locations in the middeck. It is hard to explain, but I think this was the first time that it really hit home that I am being trained to fly in the Shuttle. It has been great traveling to other NASA centers and the classes that we are getting are very interesting, but somehow it never truly felt like I was doing astronaut stuff (even though I know I am). Being in a model of the Shuttle with a trainer telling me where my food is going to be stowed and where I have to put the trash somehow seemed more real.

Thursday we started out with a review of electrical circuits. Next week we will have a class on the Electrical Power System and today's class was to make sure that we all had the basics down (only one of us is an electrical engineer). It was a good review. In the afternoon I had a Russian lesson. This was the first one in a couple of weeks. Let's just say that I am glad that my teacher is patient and has a sense of humor. Late in the afternoon I had T-38 flight. This was one of my last required flights as part of the T-38 training syllabus. It was my second night training flight. The pilot and I went over to Lake Charles and did a bunch of approaches. The Lake Charles Regional airport and the Chenault airport are quite close together. We would do a touch-and-go at one and then go do a touch-and-go at the other. It is a lot of fun, but it can be hard to get all the approaches set up in the navigation equipment quickly enough. After about five touch-and-gos we landed at the Chenault airport and had dinner. I learned from my pilot that you can call ahead and order food. We had red beans and rice. It was quite tasty and the price was right. After dinner we headed back, stopping by Beaumont to buzz their runway a couple of time.

On Friday our brains were filled with information on the Orbital Maneuvering System. This system is essentially two medium sized engines (medium compared to the main engines) and their associated equipment that are located in the back of the Shuttle near the main engines. These engines are used during a flight to do such things as help boost the thrust during launch, to circularize the orbit, to rendezvous with another spacecraft, and to get you back home. We received lots of detail on how the propellant gets to the engines through all the various lines and valves. I had another Russian class in the afternoon.

We certainly covered a lot of material this week. This weekend my only concrete plans are to study for the next week's classes. For each class we have, we have reading and/or computer based training that we have to do ahead of time. Actually, I spend most of my evenings reading and studying. I definitely feel like I am back in school.


© Shannon Walker   2004

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Revised 12-16-04