Article Five - Day Five
By Phil Reeder
Another early start for me. I think I was on the go on Day Five by about 6.00 am making my way toward the Museum for more pictures. I have said it before and I am now about to say it again. One of the great things about being part of the Advanced Adult Academy programme is the trust that exists between the trainees and staff. This extends to the Security staff as well as I found out on more than one early morning trip around the camp. Yes Camp Security would stop me as I made my way around the Camp in the early hours of the morning, but as soon as they saw my identification pass with its Advanced Academy Logo and my name printed on it I was allowed to continue on my way, camera in hand. The other great thing about my early morning walkabouts was - NO CROWDS. I could get ALL the pictures I wanted, when I wanted them, without having to wait for someone moving out of the way.
8.00 am to 8.30 am
Breakfast was scheduled for the above time but this day saw us all sat down and eating by 7.45. Jedi joined us not long after and informed us that she would only be with us until Thursday evening as she had been asked to take part in a staff recruitment drive and would be going to a shopping mall in New Mexico on Friday morning. We all wished her well and expressed our thanks for all she had done for us during her time with us.
By 8.15 breakfast was over and we made our way as a group back to Hab to pick up our rockets for the next item on the agenda - The Rocket Launch.
8.30 to ??????
Here's where the fun started - read on.
The rocket launching site is situated just to the far side of Area 51 so making our way out of the camp grounds we moved along the path, past Area 51 and eventually arrived at the launch site. Here another of the Camp's councillors was waiting to assist with the launching of our rockets.
We had rockets. He had engines. We had the Eggonauts. One slight problem? The Eggonauts were just slightly on the large side and there was no way they were going to fit in the capsules. Jedi apologised profusely and got on her walky-talky to some one at the camp with a request for some smaller Eggonauts. We then sat back to wait, and wait, and wait and wait.
Finally after about 45 minutes, and many, many, many egg jokes later, our reserve Eggonauts arrived by chauffer driven car no less, and Jedi made her way over the car to pick them up.
As I have said before, and will no doubt say again, one of the great things about the staff at Space Camp is the way they go out of their way to help you. This on the other hand was one of the times when we all felt that they should not have made so much of an effort - read on.
YES the reserve Eggonauts had arrived, but those incredibly dedicated staff at the Camp's Cafeteria had totally got the wrong end of the stick with regard to our requirements and thought we needed eggs which could be eaten, and you guessed it they had sent hard boiled eggs without the shells. The look on Jedi's face was priceless and the conversation for the next five minutes or so revolved around discussion on the new designer spacesuits that the Eggonauts were now wearing. As time was now moving on it was decided to go with the new custom space suited Eggonauts and get on with the rocket launching.
The engines were fitted and the rockets mounted on their respective launch rails. Now I would ask you to remember at this point that everything that was going on was totally new to me with regard to the actual flying of model rockets, but was something that each of my team mates had done many, many times in the past. It therefore came as quite a surprise and a very great honor when both teams asked me if I would do the honours and launch both sets of rockets - I have to admit that I am a little bit lost for words at this point to express my feelings about been asked to launch not just our teams rockets but the other teams as well as it was yet another indication of the way that the entire team had taken me on-board.
I launched our team's rocket first which reached its apex of flight but with no parachute deployment. The rocket came flying toward the ground and ended up sticking out of the ground by its noise cone. By some incredible miracle the Eggonaut had survived virtually in one piece and would be available for a second launching.
Team two were not so lucky and whilst the capsule did separate from the lower stage the parachutes did not deploy and it was a case of scrambled Eggonaut for anyone who was interested - everyone passed and the Eggonaut and his/her rocket was given a decent burial in a nearby trash can a little later on.
Team one once again launched their rocket, with me once again as the launcher and this time we faired little better than Team Two had done and we too gave both our Eggonaut and his/her rocket the decent burial they deserved.
Fun, games and rocket launching over we made our way back to the Camp to catch the bus which was to take us to Aviation Challenge for the next item on the agenda.
10.00 am to 12.00
As I said at the very beginning of the Day One article, at Space camp they do not "play" at training you to be an astronaut, as far as they are concerned they "are" training you to be an astronaut and one of the factors that therefore has to be taken into consideration is an emergency launch abort from the launch pad, and an emergency ditching over water.
To cover the first of these they have at AC a high girder work tower, which must be at least sixty feet tall. One of the items that runs from the tower is called a zip-line, which some of you may be acquainted with. The line runs from the top of the tower toward an artificial lake which is at the side of it. The lake has been constructed in such a way that the water is purified, and as the sun had been shining for the entire week the water had reached I am glad say a fairly hospitable temperature. The line from the tower runs out over the lake and ends about 100 yards from the towers top and about 20 yards from the far side of the lake.
"Stunts" our instructor from our previous trip to AC was on-hand with another instructor to explain what was going to happen. We were each equipped with a partially inflated life vest and made our way one at a time to the top of the tower. From here we were individually strapped into the zip-lines harness and Stunts explained about the quick release latches which we would use to free ourselves once we hit the water at the far end of the line. To say it's an incredible ride is an understatement. You take off from standstill and accelerate up to about ten miles per hour. Raising your legs straight out allows to pick up a little more speed and you hit the water with a huge splash. Did I enjoy it? - YES, so much so I went round twice.
OK now time to talk a little bit more about the incredible camaraderie that exists in the group of people I had found myself a part of. One of our group. I'll name no names at the present time for reasons which I will assure you will become obvious in the very special article which I intend to write at the end of this series of "Day" articles, could not swim. Did this put them off from taking part in all the water based survival activities we took part in - NO, because they had ultimate faith in the other members of the group to look out for them and this we did. Even I as a new member of the group was committed by this time to do everything I could to lookout for the other members of the team that I had become a part of.
We all zipped our way down the line and then moved on to the next item on the survival agenda - The DUNKER.
Ok so far I have covered how you egress the shuttle if an emergency should occur whilst it's still on the launch pad and you have to get away from the pad in a big hurry. Now how do you cover what happens if the shuttle (or any other aircraft for that matter) should have to come down or ditch as it is more commonly referred to over water?
The answer is the Dunker. For those that do not know, the dunker is similar in appearance to the cabin to be found on a helicopter and is laid out inside in much the same way. A forward area has two seats for the pilots and behind this is a rear cabin with room for about (I Never counted them - sorry) ten other people. There is a single door through which everyone enters the dunker, but no second door as you would find on a helicopter. In this respect the dunker is similar in design to the shuttle in only having one door for both entrance and exit.
The dunker is mounted on a crane and suspended about twelve feet above the lake at AC. Still wearing our life jackets from the zip line exercise, Stunts took us through the crash procedure for the dunker. I'll not bore you with what he told us would happen and take you straight to the action.
We trooped into the cabin and I found myself up front in the pilot's position. Once inside and seated Stunts asked us if we were all ready? Yes we replied as one. He then asked us all again if we were all ready. Yes, once again we replied as one, and at this point the fun started. He pulled a lever and the dunker dropped straight down into the lake and started to sink. Now leaving the dunker via the door you entered it is not an option because the dunker is "weighted" in such a way so that as soon as it hits the water it starts to role toward the side of the cockpit with the door on it, so you have the leave the dunker via one of the large windows which is located just behind the pilot's station.
After the entire team had left the dunker we made our way toward a raft which had been tethered approximately 30 yards away and then swam as a team back toward the tower for the next part of the exercise - retrieval. Some of you may remember the early days of manned space exploration when the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules all returned to Earth for a "splash-down" in the sea. From here the crew would be hoisted via a winch and basket onboard a waiting recovery helicopter. That was the next part of the exercise for us as one at a time we were "recovered" from the lake, not by a helicopter, but by a simple hoist, basket and winch operated by Stunts from the side of the tower.
Survival training over we were given the time for a quick shower and change of clothes before the bus took us back Camp for Lunch.
12.00 to 12.30 pm
Lunch - Great food - nuff said
12.30 pm to 1.30 pm
Next scheduled item on the agenda was to be a teambuilding exercise but as Jeff already considered us to be a team he declared that the next hour was to be "free time" in which we could what we liked until 1.30 pm when the next item on the agenda was due to start. Carol suggested a trip to museum as a means of preparing us for the next agenda item and we spent the next hour walking round the incredible on-site museum which is to be found at the Space Camp facility discussing and trying out some of the fantastic exhibits which are available for you to look at, some of which you can actually get in and look at from the inside.
For me it was yet another moving experience, when I realised as I lay in the Commanders position of the Apollo Command Module simulator, that years before at least one of the astronauts who had laid where I was, had gone on to walk on the Moon.
1.30 pm to 2.30 pm
Next up on the agenda was - Meet the Curator, what could be considered as another guest lecturer slot as it gave us chance to meet Irene Willhite, the Curator of the incredible on-site Museum and Rocket Park which is to be found at Space Camp.
Irene Willhite, is best described as a collector of any item of space related hardware she can get her hands on and put on display for all to see and appreciate. It is my understanding that she has a warehouse full of space related items that she cannot put on display simply because the space does not exist (at the present time) for her to put the items on display.
Irene, at first glance, like Dr Von Tiesenhausen who we had meet earlier in the week (refer to day Three article), has the appearance of a frail elderly lady who must be in her late 60's, it's only when she opens her mouth and starts to speak that once again this incredible transformation takes place and the room is brought alive by the stories she has to tell.
She is the fountain of all space related knowledge and started her lecturer by describing the efforts which are currently underway to restore and preserve the Saturn Five Rocket which is currently being worked on in the Rocket Park (refer to Day Two article).
Also in the lecturer were a second group of adult trainees and it was at this point that verbal interaction between Irene, our group and the second group started to take place about one of the topics covered by Dr Von Tiesenhausen: the future of manned space exploration.
2.30 pm to 3.30 pm
Next item on the agenda was supposed to be yet another teambuilding exercise but as Jeff already considered that we were a team he stated that he had something special planned for the time slot - MMU training.
The space shuttle Manned Manoeuvring Unit or MMU as it is more commonly referred is a one-man, nitrogen-propelled, self contained backpack manoeuvring system which allows astronauts to work freely in space without the need for a tether line to attach them to the space shuttle's cargo bay.
Similar in appearance to an armchair, the unit allows the astronaut to "mate or secure" their spacesuit's life support system to the manoeuvring unit to provide a secure base from which to operate the MMU whilst in space. Additional safety straps are also used to secure the astronaut in position whilst operating the MMU.
Operated via the use of rotational and translational hand controllers which allow a full 360 by 360 degrees of movement, the MMU can be used to "fly" with precision in or around the cargo bay of the space shuttle, or can be used to travel greater distances from the shuttle should the need arise to work on satellites which are floating freely in space. The unit can also be used by astronauts as an aid to recovering free floating satellites back to the cargo bay of the shuttle so they can be worked on in a more stable environment.
We made our way as a group to the Astro-Trek building where Jeff introduced us to the MMU training unit. The unit is similar in design to the real MMU except that it mounted on one of the free floating pad frames similar to those we used during the 5DF taskboard exercise of the night before. There are no thrusters as such, be the finger operated controllers do allow you an incredible range of movement.
We each took turns trying out and getting as used to using the unit as time allowed and then Jeff organised a little competition which revolved around who could manoeuvre the unit with the most precision and "dock" with the steps which are used when getting into the unit.
Although I did not know it at the time, the training I had received in the use of the MMU would play a vital part in one of the exercises to follow later on in the week.
As the Charlie and Delta mission were scheduled for a little later in the day Jeff had scheduled a half hour break between 4.00 pm and 4.30 pm so we made our way to the Cafeteria to relax until 4.30.
4.30 pm to 5.30 pm
Once again the training was over and it was time for the start of the true Charlie mission. I am pleased to say this time the mission passed without incident and alone in Mission Control I spent the time familiarising myself all the equipment and "play books" which are to be found there, whilst the others worked in the ISS Science Module.
5.30 pm to 6.00 pm
Dinner - Same old story.
6.00 pm to 7.00 pm (or as long as it took)
Time now for the last of the one hour missions - the Delta Mission is a near repeat of the Delta Training Mission with a twist. One of the great things about the training missions, other than the fact that you're training for the actual mission you are to carry out is that they help you to sometime find ways to cut corners and gain extra mission time. I am sure it was Greg who had suggested that whilst he and Mike were going through the pre-flight checks for lift-off, Carol and I could suit-up as soon as our pre-flight medicals were completed rather than wait until we had reached orbit. We agreed to try this and the time saved gave us about an extra ten minutes in the cargo bay to fulfil the mission to repair Westar.
7.00 pm to 7.30 pm
All the training, all the exercises, all the interaction that takes place as an Advanced Adult Space Academy trainee, is designed to prepare you for one event which takes place near the very end of the week long training cycle.
The Long Duration Mission or LDM as it is more commonly referred would be in our case an extended mission over a period of 24 hours. That is to say that once the crew were aboard the simulator they are not allowed to leave it for the 24 hour period with the exception of a personal EVA.
The start of the actual preparation for the LDM is the selection of the food to be consumed by the trainees during the 24 hour period. The selections are made during a part of the training programme referred to as the "Food Lab", which is a combination of lecture given in this case by Jeff on the types of food to be found in space at the present time, and the actual selection of foods by the trainees from a menu of available items. The foods selected by the trainees will package and loaded onto the orbitor prior to the start of the LDM.
Not knowing quite what to pick I went for the safest option I could think of, a combination of meat pies to be heated in the ISS Science Modules microwave oven and some small apple pies which I could eat as and when I liked. Jeff also informed us that as a "treat" we could have the extra option of sending out for a take-away from a nearby eatery if we wanted.
7.30 pm to sometime after 10.00 pm
Next up was the one official item on the agenda, which we had been un-officially doing all week - Orbitor Simulator. We followed Jeff (or was it Mike - who I am sure could have found the building both blindfolded and in his sleep) to the Computer Lab and once again spent the time practicing and practicing and practicing again, landing, after landing, after landing until we steadily broke up and departed one by one for our respective beds.
Article Six - Day Six