Article Four - Day Four
By Phil Reeder
7.00 am - 12.00
There's an old saying. Always leave the best till last and that's exactly what I plan on doing with these articles.
Those of you wishing to hear what went off on Day Four between 7.00 am and 12.00 will have to wait until the Very Special Article I plan on writing at the end of this series - believe me its well worth waiting for.
12.00 - 12.30 pm
Lunch - same old story.
12.30 pm to 1.00 pm
Travel to the Aviation Challenge site
1.00 pm to 2.30 pm
For those who do not know, Space Camp has a sister side called Aviation Challenge. Whilst Space Camp, the Space Academy and the Advanced Adult Space Academy deal with space related areas, Aviation Challenge deals more with aviation based areas (Fighter Planes, Helicopters, etc).
The first thing you notice as you drive through the gates at Aviation Challenger or AC as it more commonly referred to is the F-14 Tomcat fighter which is parked to the left hand side of the road. It is my understanding that this plane has featured in the movies "The Final Countdown - starring Kirk Douglas" and "Topgun - starring Tom Cruise", parked next to the F-14 is an F-16 fighting falcon fighter.
Making the turn to the outdoor canopy hanger area of AC, the bus came to a stop and we made our way toward the main building. Standing to the left of the doors is a T-38 Talon trainer, in full NASA livery. This is the type of aircraft used by the NASA astronauts to "commute" around the USA to the various NASA sites they have to visit. To the right of the doors and also in full NASA livery was my next shock of the week, as standing there was a British Harrier Jump Jet. The last thing I expected to see at an American training establishment was a British fighter aircraft, but there it was for all to see. (see photo)
Entering the building we were greeted by yet another individual who I would come to know and respect. Marlon - call-sign Stunts, was to be our instructor for our Mach III experience. The planes we were to be taught to fly would be the two-seater versions of the F-18 Hornet fighter and the two-seater version of the T-38 Talon trainer.
Once again the set-up at AC for Mach III has to be seen to be believed. These are not the flight simulators you play with on your computers at home - NO. These are FULL sized cockpit simulators and once again everything inside them works.
To the front of the cockpits is one of the biggest display screens I have ever seen, it must have been at least 20 feet across by 15 feet down. A truly impressive size, and there was not just one of these monsters, but four of the cockpit/screen set-up's in the room, with a Control Tower set-up to the rear of them so the AC controllers can look down on, and observe how the trainees are fairing not only on their screen's but through the Control Tower windows as well.
Stunts took us though the basic controls, and the first thing I noticed was that his briefing and the checklist to be followed for taxiing and take-off was different from the one we had received during our Day Two Flight Intro Briefing. Although the differences were not significant, it did make for some interesting engine start-up's and taxiing manoeuvres on my part and I finally ended up with Stunts in the rear seat behind me giving me instructions on how to taxi the aircraft. I just could not get the hang of the controls when it came to rudder and brakes. Give me a week and I may have been able to get it, but I didn't have a week and finally called the control tower and requested that they advance the computerised programme for the flight simulator and put my aircraft on the runway as this was the only way it was going to get into position for take-off.
Once in the air you can start to enjoy yourself as there is not a lot that can go wrong with a 360 by 360 degree free flight area around you. Next came the other fun part - landing. I had practiced landing the shuttle on various occasions with varying degrees of success, but landing a fighter is once again an entirely different experience. Four crashes later I also gave this up as a bad job - Shuttles YES (?) Fighters NO.
With take-offs, normal flight and landings out of the way we were allowed a bit of free time for dog-fighting. I found this a most enjoyable experience, but I am not sure my team mates found it the same as I am sure I shot down at least two of them and we were supposed to be on the same side.
I have to admit that after a while you really start to become part of the entire sensation, so much so that when I climbed out of the cockpit I found that I was sweating just a bit. That's the great part about the advanced adult academy programme. If you immerse yourself in it, it can be an incredible experience. Every time you do something, no matter what it is, or for how long, whilst you are doing it, its real, and that's what makes it so much more special.
2.00 pm to 2.30 pm
Next on the agenda was Flight Physical.
For those of you who have seen the film "Topgun", its a bit like the scene when Tom Cruise looses control of his aircraft and the aircraft goes into a violent flat spin. Instead of an aircraft a spinning chair is used and the aim is to pick a spot on the wall, allow Stunts to spin you as fast as he can in the chair, bring the chair to a dead stop and for you to point at the spot you have picked out. I think I managed it once, but it's not something I would advise someone who has recently eaten to try. (see photo)
2.30 pm to 3.00 pm
Travel from Aviation Challenge back to Space Camp
3.00 pm to 4.00 pm
Next on the agenda one of the things I had already had experience of through my ATX training at Kennedy Space Centre the previous year.
The Multi-Axis trainer (see photo) can only be described as a chair in the middle of three rings, which has the ability to spin you in three different directions at the same time at high speed. Once again I would caution the use of this machine directly after meals. Using this machine directly after a meal is guaranteed to do three things:-
It's one of the machines that has been used in the early days of space travel to enable astronauts to get the feel of what it is like to tumble out of control in space (remember when one of the early Project Gemini flights docked with the Agena target vehicle and a thruster jammed open and you get the idea).
I have to say I enjoyed it - so much so that I went on twice.
4.00 pm to 5.00 pm
The ALPHA mission
No more training. This was the real deal, the thing that I had trained for. It was now time to assemble the framework. Since completing the training for the Alpha mission I had given serious thought on how I could make things easier for myself. The most tiring part of the mission is having to constantly change your orientation from horizontal to vertical and back again whilst assembling the framework structure and having to move back and forth from the storage pod to the assembly area every time you need a new construction bar. There was nothing I could do about the nodules, they would be with me all the time in the bag around my neck, but it occurred to me that if I was able to take two or even three bars from the pod at the same time it would cut down on the amount of two-ing and fro-wing I would have to do. Remember it's not just one mission I had to carry out but two in the same day so anything that can leave you with an energy reserve for the next mission is something to think about. I tried carrying three bars but the combination of being horizontal, the weight from over balancing and having only one hand to close the storage pod proved to be too much. I tried two bars and this worked ok so I not only managed to get not only the required height of framework completed, I actually managed to add a bit more to it than previously. (see photo)
5.00 pm to 5.30 pm
5.30 pm to 6.30 pm
After dinner the entire group made their way back to the Hab for Day Two of the Rocket Construction programme. The first thing we had to do was check that the glue had set correctly. Fortunately for both groups the glue had set ok and it was then time to do the rockets "Drop Test". The Drop Test is used to ensure that our rockets parachutes would deploy correctly as the rockets noise cone and Egonauts capsule separated from the rest of the rocket as the rocket reached the top of its flight pattern.
One member from each group took the groups noise cone sections of their respective rockets to the top floor of the Hab and with the remaining team members waiting below ready to catch the rockets. Each team's rockets were then dropped and fell toward us. I am pleased to report that the parachute deployment for both teams was a resounding success and all that was left was the actual flight testing which would be done on the morning of the following day.
6.30 pm to 8.00 pm
Once again the training over it was time for the Bravo Mission (see photo) with myself and Greg going EVA to fix Westar. This time I am please to say we got the harness balancing spot on and Greg was able to access the good antenna's and replace them with the damaged ones without the problems we had encountered during the training mission.
8.00 pm to 9.00 pm and longer
Time for the next new item on the agenda - The 5DM Taskboard.
Before I tell you all about the task, I'll tell you about the equipment we used. The 5DM chair is similar in appearance to an armchair into which the trainee is strapped. The chair is mounted into a framework type structure which allows it to move in a total of FIVE different directions (forward, backward, left, right, round and round) all at virtually the same time. The framework into which the chair is fitted is mounted on a series of air cushioned pads which allow a great amount of flexibility. One small push against a solid object and you can end up moving backwards, sideways and round and round all at the same time. The entire assembly is designed to give you an appreciation of what it's like to be moving in a near weightless environment. That's the 5DM Chair.
The Taskboard is constructed from a series of tubular steel bars and is about twenty feet long by six feet high. The taskboard is also mounted on a series of air cushioned pads similar to those on the 5DM chair so is also capable of a great deal of free movement. Bolted to the framework are a series of differently designed mechanical tasks. That's the Taskboard. (see photo)
For the task we split into two groups. Myself, Carol and Greg were first up with each of us having a different mechanical task to try and complete. The task would have been hard in normal lighting conditions but Jeff decided to add a touch of even more realism to the task by making each of us wear a blindfold. I cannot comment on Carol and Greg's task's, not been able to see them, but mine, and I only found out later what it actually was "felt" as if I was required to use a large monkey wrench to try and turn a nut mounted on a screw. Now the problem is that in normal gravity conditions you have something to push against. When using the 5DM chair when you push one way to try and turn the bolt, you are pushed in the other direction. I thought I had the answer to this by hooking my legs around the taskboards framework but by this time I had only succeeded in tightening the bolt even more and found it impossible to turn afterwards in the right direction.
Whilst it's great to be able to complete the task I think the primary idea behind the it is to give the trainees an appreciation of what it feels like to work in a zero gravity environment when working with tools and to this end it was a resounding success.
By now it was nearing 10.00 pm and the official end of the day, but as usual Mike was "drawn" toward the computer lab or the Sims Bay as it started to become being called and as usual more than one of us was drawn with him.
Hindsight is an incredible thing. If I had known at the time what a fantastic place Space Camp would be, and how much material I would have to try and cover with these articles I would have planned the photo coverage a lot better. As it is there are simply no photographs available for some of the things I did as an individual and as part of the team, I have therefore filled in the gaps with a few of the other pictures that are available and hope you enjoy looking at them.
Article Five - Day Five