Week 27
December 13 - 17, 2004

This was our last week of scheduled training classes for the year. It was much like the previous few weeks - systems classes, flying, Russian. However, we also had our first official test this week. We are to be periodically tested over the material we are learning as part of our continuing evaluation process. So, I spent a very large part of my weekend as well as every evening this week reviewing what we have covered so far.

Monday, in addition to the usual morning staff meeting, we had two training classes. The first was on the caution and warning system of the Shuttle. We covered the basics of how the caution and warning system works. There are a variety of different levels of cautions and warnings that the crew can receive, each with their own set of lights, sounds, and/or messages. There are two emergency events, fire and cabin depressurization, that are hardware driven. Being hardware driven means that a hardware sensor is connected directly to the sounds and lights which give the crew an indication that something is wrong. In addition to the emergency items, there are roughly 120 hardware driven items in the primary caution and warning system along with a whole host of software driven items. The primary caution and warning indications are for critical systems items that the crew must take action relatively quickly or else the situation could deteriorate into a much more serious situation. The software driven items are similar to the hardware driven events, but the on-board computers are evaluating the sensor data prior to an indication being given to the crew.

Along with all of those cautions and warnings, there are heap of software driven cautions that are considered to be of lesser importance. Items of which the crew needs to be aware but action may or may not need to be taken. And, finally, there are software driven data indications which let the crew know when certain sensor readings are out of software defined limits.

Our other class of the day was on what is called the reaction control system. This is a system of small jets which are mainly used to control the attitude of the Shuttle (which direction the Shuttle is pointing) while on orbit. This system of jets is similar to the other engine systems we have already covered, the orbital maneuvering system and the main engines, in that there are tanks of propellant, there are valves, there are jets and jet controllers. Of course, each system has to call its parts something different - a tank isolation valve in one system is a pressure isolation valve in another. . . But, the bottom line is that they all work the same way. You mix your fuel and oxidizer and, boom, your jet fires.

I was supposed to go flying this evening and do my night formation flying, but we couldn't scare up any pilots. The living legend John Young (walked on the moon, commander of the first Shuttle flight) is retiring from NASA at the end of the month. There was a going away dinner for him and all the pilots were attending. It will definitely be strange to not have John Young stalking the halls of JSC, keeping everyone on the technical straight and narrow. His expertise and attention to detail will be truly missed.

Our Tuesday classes were on Shuttle drawings and the myriad of engineering reference material that is available. Each system on the Shuttle has associated functional drawings that show how everything is put together. These drawings are not engineering drawings in that you could go build a Shuttle from them, but, rather, they show how everything is wired - such as, if you flip a switch that turns on a piece of hardware, the drawings will show how the switch is wired to the hardware and how any data associated with the switch and hardware gets to the computers. As you can imagine, the drawings are quite complicated and the stack of these drawings for the Shuttle is about a foot thick. For the uninitiated, trying to sort through what all the symbols mean, how to find things, how to use the drawings to troubleshoot a problem, etc., can be quite a daunting task. So we spent several hours going through how to read the drawings. We followed the drawing class up with a short class on all the engineering reference material that is used to create the drawings and where to locate said materials, if needed.

I was finally able to go flying in the afternoon. We couldn't quite get the available pilots and available planes to line up, so once again no night formation flying for me. But, I did have a very nice flight. Just for something different the pilot and I decided to go down to Corpus Christi. The weather was great and we buzzed their airport before coming back to JSC for a couple of approaches. I may not be getting my final syllabus training requirement in, but at least I am getting my flight time requirements met.

Wednesday morning's class was quite interesting and long. It was on how an orbital maneuvering system (OMS) engine burn is accomplished on orbit. We carefully went through all the steps and data inputs required to tell the Shuttle to fire its OMS engines at a particular time. Let's just say that it took four hours to go through all the information. The rest of my day was spent studying and in a Russian class.

I started off my Thursday with another Russian class. Sometimes it is hard to tell if I am making any progress in Russian. I suppose I am, but some days it seems like I can't understand a single thing that my Russian teacher is saying to me. And, then, other days, like yesterday, we had great conversations. Following my Russian lesson we had a class on the solid rocket boosters. We covered the ins and outs of how they work, but the bottom line on the solid rocket boosters is that once they have been lit, there is nothing that the crew can do except hang on for the ride.

I thought I was going to get to fly this afternoon. There was a back seat open with a pilot who needed to fly to El Paso for some Shuttle training aircraft flying practice. Unfortunately, I got bumped for another mission specialist at the last minute. Oh well, as much as I wanted to go fly, it was probably just as well that I didn't. I wouldn't have gotten back until quite late and even though I tried to pace my evening studying so that I would be ready for my test by Wednesday, I was glad to have the evening for a final review.

We had our test the first thing Friday morning. I think I did fairly well, but we won't find out our results until next year. Barring a couple of stupid mistakes I know I made, I felt like I had a very good grasp of the material. I have to say, it certainly felt good to have the test completed. I feel like I can finally start thinking about the holiday season now.

The rest of my day was taken up with a Russian lesson and a T-38 flight. We zipped around the College Station area. It was such a nice day weather-wise, that the skies were quite busy. It seemed like every few minutes we got the call that there was some Cessna crossing paths with us directly in front of us. We really had to stay on our toes looking out for the traffic.

Our class got together for a Christmas party in the evening. It was a nice way to cap off a very exciting year. As I look back at all the changes that have happened and all the things I have done this year, it is still amazing to me that I was selected. I am truly fortunate.

© Shannon Walker   2004

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Revised 12-31-04