Sunday, May 29, 2011

Welcome to Mission Control

I've been presenting leadership lectures at Johnson's Apollo Mission Control for a few months now, and every trip there is like a trip to the Church of Apollo. If you ever have a chance to visit, make sure you sign up for the Space Center Houston tour which includes this stop. number of years ago, someone at JSC realized that the old MCC was something special, and should not be repurposed for shuttle control (as the other one was). So with an ultimate partnership with the National Parks Service, the Apollo control room was, so to speak, "mothballed in place" and looks much the same as it did when the last lunar landing flights departed Earth orbit.

Our program gave us the chance to view the fine movie Apollo 13 from the very seats featured in that film. Nothing like sitting at Gene Kranz's console as you watch him (well, Ed Harris) make life-or-death decisions... fantastic.

Of course, there are changes over time. The consoles no longer light up, due to safety considerations. The carpet is very worn, but at this point cannot be replaced due to asbestos abatement expenses. And so many more issues. But the basic structure is there, with the consoles, the chairs, the pneumatic messaging tubes, and all the rest. Just fantastic.

If in Houston, make sure to put this at the top of your list!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Take Care, Endeavor

The current shuttle in orbit, the penultimate flight of the STS program, has tile damage. Seven areas of concern have been indentified by observation from the space station. At this point, they are not considered to be a danger to the return of the orbiter, but more investigation is needed. See details here.

The damaged areas range in size, but a few are larger than a deck of cards. Of course, the depth of the gouges and shape of them will play a role in the decision to fix or not fix. Also, location on the orbiter matters a lot- the temperature buildup in that particular area plays heavily into the equation.

The worst case scenario? A docking with the space station, crew transfer to safe haven, and return to Earth via Atlantis or a Soyuz. Then there would need to be a decision whether or not to attempt an unmanned, computer driven landing with Endeavor. In theory it could be done, and the Soviet Union long ago flew (and landed) their own Buran shuttle unmanned, but for the US shuttles, it is an option previously tested only with a human crew onboard.

As is most common, the damage was from pieces of foam insulation from the external tank (ET). The tank in question was older, having previously survived a hurricane that ripped through the assembly facility, with foam insulation that was over 10 years old.


Welcome to the Missions to the Moon book blog. This is a place to re-live the heady days of the Apollo and Soyuz lunar programs- perhaps the crowning achievements of the 20th Century. Many blog entries will include a new downloadable image or artifact from the space age- items rarely seen and not available in print. It's all in the spirit of my newest book, Missions to the Moon- to remember the great adventure of the Golden Age of space exploration, and ponder what wonders await us in space.

For more info on the author, go to