Space Camp Day 2 (Part 1)

Day 2 opened with Alpha Mission. We divided up into groups to man Mission Control, the Space Station, and the Endeavour. After taking our positions the mission began.

Inside the Endeavour simulator
Photo by Michael Formichelli
I served as Mission Specialist 2, and my job was to ride the space shuttle up to orbit along with Mission Specialist 1, and practice constructing a support structure as NASA did when they were practicing to build the International Space Station.

We suffered no mishaps on the ride up thanks to our excellent commander and pilot, and were able to get to work straight away once the Endeavour had maneuvered into position.

Me in the zero-gee chair
 In reality, we would have suited up before exiting the shuttle (or very bad things would have happened) but in this simulation we had to exit first before putting on our "space suits" and getting strapped into these (mostly) zero-gee simulators.

The device used to simulate a space walk (shown to the right) is essentially a hovercraft-chair functioning along the same principle as an air-hockey table where the floor is the puck. You can shove yourself back and drift helplessly if you want (I didn't) until you collide with something as the friction is minimized by the air cushion (just like in space, but with air involved, and far less terrifying since there is something to slam into). We were being judged on our performance, though, so my partner and I were all business. (Yes, that's her helmet open in the shot below, pay no attention to that. The suits didn't have the cooling system the real ones do and were damn hot.)
Working on the structure

It's harder than you might think to put together a giant tinker-toy with space gloves on (okay, hockey gloves to simulate the real thing) but we managed it in what we were told was in record time (which I think may have been beaten during Charlie Mission by my wife and her team mate, and yes, that's me helping to put on the solar panel below).
Me attaching the solar panel

After the space-walk we returned to Endeavour for the landing procedure, which I must say was handled with a calm professionalism considering we found a malfunction in the control stick—and oh yeah, no landing gear! (Damn gremlins in the system...) Despite this, we skidded to a glorious landing in Florida with no hands lost (thank you guys!)

(The V2 German Missile)
Photo by Michael Formichelli

(That's a mock-up Saturn V in the background)
Photo by Michael Formichelli
After Alpha Mission team Columbia proceeded outside the simulator building (Davis Center) to the rocket museum portion of the campus. Here we were given the overview of space flight from the early days of the V2 to the Saturn V. Many of the rockets in the exhibit were real, either reassembled or spares that were never used.

Okay, we all know that rockets are big, but I have to say it's quite the humbling experience to stand before them and realize just how large they really are. What really awes me is that most of the space in these metal beasts is full of fuel, and the portion occupied by humans (or satellites or probes) consists of that tiny little section near the top. In the case of the Saturn V rocket, the fuel has the energy equivalent of two-kilotons of TNT. It's just amazing.

After our walk through history we returned to Davis for Bravo Mission training, during which I was to be assigned to mission control as the GNC (Guideance, Navigation, and Control data) flight controller... (to be continued)


Popular Posts