Originally published http://absolutspaceguy.posterous.com.
(JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas) — Lying on my back strapped in with a five-point harness preparing to lift-off in the space shuttle was the highlight of my second NASA tweetup at the Johnson Space Center this week.
After viewing over thirty space shuttle launches from the Kennedy Space Center I was ready to take the ride of a lifetime.
Strapped into the same space shuttle simulator in which every astronaut since STS-1 have used since 1981, the four of us waited for the countdown to reach zero as we rested on our backs and the excitement began to build.
Every space shuttle crew sat on the same flight deck in which I sat. And now it was my turn.
Minutes earlier, Michael Grabois — who has worked in the simulator operations for over a decade to support the space shuttle crews — gave us a detailed briefing on what to expect and what he and his team do during a sim.
As the final space shuttle flight soared over Johnson and the Houston landscape 240 miles above, I awaited my own launch as Mission Specialist 2 – the flight engineer.
Chills and goose bumps covered my arms as I saw the display count down 3, 2, 1. (Boom!) We felt a jolt, a kick in the pants, as we began our mission in the actual motion-based space shuttle simulator and we were underway.
Our pilot said “Ok, lift-off,” and I uttered into my headset seconds later a reminder for “LV/LH” (Local Vertical / Local Horizontal), the duty of a flight engineer. And then the word “Roll.”
Our crew of four were on our way.
The glass displays tracked our ‘launch’ in the dark cabin as we soared out over the Atlantic waters.
Working above a hydraulic system to give the sim a real feel launch motion, I watched the displays to ensure the ascent profile matched. I wondered for a brief second if the controllers would enable an issue which would call for an abort.
About 70 seconds into the “flight,” I radioed “3 at 104,” a call that we were through max-Q and to throttle the three main engines back at full thrust.
It felt great!
An abort call never happened and we flew right through solid rocket booster separation.
That wrapped the launch sim, and now we prepared for the landing sim.
Landing in the actual space shuttle sim was not as dynamic as that of the launch, that is except for my commander.
From my MS-2 seat located behind and between the commander and pilot’s seat, I was able to look out and see the green grass and later the runway at the Kennedy Space Center on final approach.
The landing sim began at 25,0 feet and with little to do except watch, I ran video from my prospective of the landing.
Our pilot dropped the shuttle’s landing gear and the commander brought the main gear down to a smooth touch down.
This was a large part of my two days at NASA’s manned space flight facility and Space Center Houston.
Afterwards, I was asked to sign the Space Shuttle Sim Log Book by the instructors – schwing! Other names in this log book are those past astronauts, Tom Cruise and Aerosmith to name a few… and now it holds my name.
I enjoyed speaking to great people who work at Johnson along with twenty nine other’s like myself who were chosen by NASA to visit and tour the inside operations as the last space shuttle mission wound down.
Click to view more detailed images from my journey behind the scenes at the Johnson Space Center.
Lunch inside JSC was a blur and I only ate and drank water to prepare for the next five hours and stoped only to utter two words to fellow space tweep Leslie Berg: Gift Shop.
I picked up a NASA employee styled shirt which is not sold at any of the public gift shops.
Following lunch, we headed over to building 30, home to the space shuttle and space station Mission Control Centers.
I’ll admit, I got a bit teary-eyed as I stood in mission control watching these great people look over the final space shuttle mission’s systems during Atlantis’ final two days in space.
As I looked over, I smiled as I found Shannon Lucid on console.
Peering into the space shuttle mission control as Atlantis’ crew slept following their undocking from the space station hour earlier, it was quiet.
As I stood there, I took in the sights and the feel of the large room.
Astronaut Shannon Lucid, who is a member of the first group of female astronauts (Dr. Judy Resnik, Sally Ride, Anna Fisher) was on CAPCOM and would awaken the crew to begin their final full day in space.
For most in the room, it was their second to last shift for this last flight of Atlantis and the thirty year-old program.
Light conversation in NASA tech jargon can be heard coming from the CAPCOM desk, with an occasion sports reference from select desks around the room.
The room was the communications center for the space shuttle.
CAPCOM is an astronaut who trained along side the shuttle crew. They stay behind in Mission Control to relay new tasks or reminders from the Flight Director to the crew 220 miles high above earth.
The blue schemed room supports three large screens at the front displaying the health of the shuttle on one, a huge computer animated tracking map in the center and video from space most of the time.
Above the screens are digital clocks showing the mission duration and the current time.
Sections of desks with flat screen computers before them relay the newest information of the shuttle health.
In the past, even when a space shuttle is not flying, the room is quite active. Controllers would use the room with the astronauts of a future shuttle flight to practice launch and landing, including certain days of a mission.
The massive room replaced the first Mission Control in 1995. This newer facility witnessed the complete construction of the International Space Station, and the repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope — both national treasures.
Following Atlantis’ touchdown on July 21, Mission Control fell silent.
The next five years will see no American controlled manned space flights by NASA.
The only activity the room will have is the occasional upgrading of computer systems and the VIP tour of a room lost to the ages.
The lights are now dimmed…
… but next door the Space Station Control Center remains active as two Americans and four international crew members continue the journey of exploration and science in earth orbit.
As a few NASA speakers gave us a tour of the control room, they offered great information about the large display screens at the front of the room, to the different control consoles and what their job is, to the past space shuttle mission emblems which hung on the walls.
NASA flight director Ed Van Cise discussed his management role with both shuttle and station, and NASA engineer Sarah G. Ruiz discussed the control center’s operations… that is until a special phone call broke the discussion.
Space was calling…
The silence of the visit was broken by a phone call on an iPhone 4… it was astronaut Ron Garan calling from the International Space Station.
In April, Ron sent this aerospace reporter a birthday greeting from the orbiting lab, and now I was speaking to him from an iPhone at mission control.
As I video recorded the long distance call and several around me photographed the iPhone, we spoke for a few minutes to the NASA astronaut who last year tweeted with several of us during the STS-132 JSC NASA tweetup.
Garan called JSC’s public affairs’ Amiko Kauderer’s iPhone to chat with the thirty visiting space tweeps — those of us who use Twitter to chat and discuss space and science interests.
It was the same number in which astronaut Scott Kelly had used to call late last year and through March during his stay aboard the space station.
Garan, who is known as @Astro_Ron on the social network site, spoke for nearly two minutes to the group who threw questions and comments his way.
This aerospace reporter is @AbsolutSpaceGuy and was among those who spoke with the astronaut who commented at one point that it was past his bedtime.
As we departed mission control, it hard to leave as I stood there taking in the view of a room controlling a space shuttle flight. It will never happen again I thought.
We next found ourselves in a National Historic Landmark known as FLCR 1, used as a flight control room from 1965 through 1995.
NASA Flight Director Dr. Greg Holt spoke of the room’s historic missions such as the Gemini flights which led American to the the Apollo program and the lunar landings and a joint flight with the Russians in 1975 known as Apollo-Soyuz.
The first 70 space shuttle mission’s were also controlled from this room.
Kauderer then lead us over to the space station and space shuttle mockup facility which is located in a different building.
There, Kelly was on hand to greet us and spent time discussing what it was like to live and work high above our planet.
Kelly commanded the orbiting lab earlier this year, and returned back to earth aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule in March following five months in space.
It was great to see him again. I met with him and his brother Mark twice earlier during my STS-132 NASA tweetup, and I must have had a big grin when I saw him again.
Scott Kelly is an astronaut’s astronaut. A great pilot, very knowledgeable and will spend time to help you learn about the space program.
I asked the astronaut if he would vie for a future expedition crew and he said ‘yes’, but he feels it would be several years away before he he soars through space at 17,300 m.p.h. again.
I also asked him about the new rockets which both private companies and NASA are working towards for future manned space flight, and he thought that he would love to test them.
Earlier in the morning as we awaited to fly the space shuttle SIM, another visitor to my STS-132 NASA tweetup, astronaut Clay Anderson, arrived to speak with us during STS-135 and pose for a few pictures.
Clay is a true family man. He coaches his son’s baseball team and participates at his children’s school.
You could tell that Clay enjoyed what he does as he spoke of his experiences and took time out to answer our questions.
My question was meet with uncertainty, “Will you fly on a future expedition aboard space station?”
Clay paused for a moment, and said “No.”
Scott, however, is aiming to return to space soon, and he gave several of us an indepth discussion about the station from inside the mock-up of the Japanese Kibo module.
That evening following a great day at the space center, Kelly came out to a local wine pub where several of us were recalling the events of the day.
The next morning several of us met up at Space Center Houston which is the museum for the Johnson Space Center.
Space Tweeps Marlene Morgan, John Tulloch and Lynn van Rooijen toured the facility on the 42nd anniversary of the first lunar landing.
As we viewed the Apollo 17’s command module America and surveyed huge moon rocks inside the lunar vault, we turned around to see a historic figure walk past us.
Walt Cunningham, the last surviving member of the first Apollo spaceflight in 1968, was looking around the museum just as we had planned to do.
He enjoyed posing for a few pictures with us and sharing his memories from his flight which flew the mission the lost Apollo 1 was scheduled to perform.
The day was one in which several at Johnson went out of their way to give us thirty Space Tweeps an amazing experience.
Those I have mentioned above for their exceptional work, thank-you very much. I also would like to thank the people at Public Affairs at JSC; my wife Cathy; several people who operated and supported our space shuttle SIM; and Cindy Mahler.
I will likely update this feature soon with recalled memories as I jot down notes and details from our magical journey inside the Johnson Space Center.