August 9 - 13, 2004
This week consisted of a lot of briefings and tours. We started off Monday morning attending the weekly astronaut office staff meeting. Since most of the office hadn't met most of us, we were introduced formally. I have to admit that felt very strange. Following the staff meeting we had a briefing with the lead administrative person on "administrivia" followed by a briefing by the lead scheduling person on how our lives are scheduled. Each Friday afternoon I'll get the schedule of where I need to be when for the following week. If you want to see me, talk to the schedulers. They control my life now. We then had a briefing by the computer folks on the computers and support they will be giving us (for those that know her - this is the group that my good friend Sheri runs). Finally, we had to get dressed up in suits and go have a hello with the JSC Center Director and his staff. Not too rough of a day.
Tuesday we started off in our flight suits out at the Mars yard that is on site at JSC. The Mars yard is a place where the scientists and engineers at JSC have piled up dirt and rocks to represent the Martian landscape. They test new technologies, such as rovers, there. We had a very interesting briefing on what they are currently doing. Folks are working very hard on what it will take to send people to Mars. We were in our flight suits since the NASA media folks wanted to get some video and pictures of us doing our training thing for the web and NASA TV.
After the Mars yard we had a whirlwind set of briefings from the media folks on what they do, how they work with the astronauts, and how they work with the media and the public. Wow - they have a lot going on. We were then shuttled off to a briefing with one of the lead JSC security folks on things we need to be generally aware of now that we are in the public's eye. Unfortunately, there are some kooks out there that have an interest in the space program. But, the good news is that the security folks (and their friends in public law enforcement) are definitely on top of things.
We started our afternoon with a briefing on lunar exploration given by John Young. For those that aren't up on all the Apollo astronauts, John Young is one of the ones that has been to the moon. He was also a Shuttle pilot, so he has been involved in the space program for a long time. He still works at JSC and is quite a character. That was a great briefing. Unfortunately, we followed the lunar exploration briefing with a briefing on the mailroom and supplies. As you might expect, that wasn't quite as interesting as the previous briefing. But, I'll be the first to admit, it was all important information. We finished our day watching Kennedy Space Center (KSC) training videos. As far as I can tell there are about 800 million of them and they basically all say the same thing - dangerous stuff goes on there, get out of the buildings if the alarms go off, and read (and obey) all warning signs. We have a lot more of them to watch before we can be badged for unescorted access at KSC. I guess there is no real rush to watch them all, but it will be nice when we are done with all of the videos. I swear I think some of them are the same ones that I saw when I first started working at JSC 17 years ago.
Wednesday was spouse day. For those who had spouses who were available, they got to come with us on tours of various facilities at JSC. It was good for them to see where we would be working and spending so much of our time. We went to the control center, to the training facility where they have a lot of the high fidelity mock ups of the Shuttle and the Station, to the lab where virtual reality training is conducted, and to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL). The NBL is the giant pool where the space walks are trained. The afternoon consisted of briefings, mainly for the spouses, on a whole variety of things - everything from the family support group to the rules, regulations and services at the flight medicine clinic to information on benefits to another security briefing. I think I was "briefinged" out after that.
Thursday was another tour day, this time without the spouses. We had tours that were more technical in nature of more of the facilities. We saw a couple of the simulators where we will be doing a lot of the Shuttle launch and entry type training as well as the Shuttle rendezvous and arm training. After that we got to see the big vacuum chambers at JSC. The one that they used to test the Apollo capsules in is enormous, something like 50 feet in diameter and 90 feet tall. They use it now to test things such as the Mars landers. In fact the last test they ran in there was testing the airbags for the Mars lander. They hauled the lander test article to the top of the chamber and dropped it a few times to make sure the airbags would work properly. There is a second vacuum chamber that isn't quite as big (only 26 feet in diameter by 26 feet tall) that is used to test spacewalk tools and equipment. Yes, a person will get there in a space suit and work with the equipment and tools. We also got to see the food lab where the food that goes up on the Shuttle and to the Station is prepared. We didn't get any samples, unfortunately. And, this tour was right before lunch so we were hungry. After lunch we saw the lab where folks are working on advanced propulsion technology (the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket to be exact). This new technology is one of the ones being investigated for Mars missions. We also saw the suit lab at the NBL (the space suits that are used in the water for training) as well the suit lab where they maintain the real space suits. Finally, we got to see the moon rocks. That was really nifty. No, those kids didn't steal all of them and yes, NASA got them back and, yes, the perpetrators went to jail so, no, I can't get you any moon rocks. NASA has the majority of the rocks brought back from the moon in storage at JSC in some really fancy facilities (those that aren't at JSC are out being tested by scientists or have been loaned to museums). What a thrill that was to get to see the moon rocks. Maybe I'll get to bring them some more. This was a very interesting day.
Friday was back to the briefings. We had a very involved briefing on the legal subtleties of working for the government and being a public figure (i.e., what gifts you can accept and what you can't. Basically, if it isn't coffee and doughnuts, I can't accept it.). We had a preliminary briefing on our land survival training that is in another week and we finished the day by polishing off the rest of the KSC safety videos. I am glad those are done. So, there you have it - that was what I did this week.
© Shannon Walker 2004
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