Article Two - Day Two
By Phil Reeder
4.30 am to 8.30 am
Having travelled to the USA from the UK my normal sleep pattern was more than a little screwed-up, so when I woke up the following morning at about 3.30 am and half an hour later had still not managed to get back to sleep, I gave it up as a bad job and got up. A quick shave and shower followed and grabbing my camera I decided to do a little exploring before the day officially started at about 8.00 am.
One of the first things I noted as I made my way out of the Hab was how warm it was, even at that time in the morning you could walk around in a cut-off t-shirt, shorts and trainers and not feel the cold, or it could have been the fact that I was starting to get into the Space Camp mode that was keeping me warm. Now I come to think about it more, it was probably a combination of both.
I made my way toward the Rocket Park (See Picture ONE), which is on the direct opposite side of the camp from the Hab building. To do this in a straight line takes you directly under Pathfinder, and once again I HAD to stop, stare and marvel at this incredible monument to US space faring achievement. I also got my first glance at something I had not noticed the day before. Just to rear of Pathfinder is one of the orbiters main engines mounted on a platform, and I could have quite easily stepped inside and stood up inside the engine bell with room to spare, which once again gives you an idea of how truly large the shuttle and its component sections really are.
Passing beyond Pathfinder takes you to the path which leads directly to the camps Rocket Park and examples of the many space fairing achievements that the US has completed since the end of World War II. There is even an example of the US version of the V1 missile which was built by the German "Project paperclip" scientists who came to the US at the end of World War II.
I moved on taking photograph after photograph until I finally came to the base of the Saturn 1-B Rocket and it’s only when you arrive here, as with Pathfinder that you truly realise how big this rocket was, and this is replica and not even a full size Saturn Five. I moved on after a few minutes once again taking photograph after photograph, until once again I was forced to stop. The cause of my frozen movement on this occasion was not the sight of yet another US space faring achievement, but the sight of two, what appeared to be quite elderly gentlemen making their way from under a tarpaulin on the far end of the rocket park. Both were dressed similarly to me, in shorts, t-shirts and trainers, but both were carrying what appeared to be paint cans and brushes. I checked my watch and it was a little after 5.00 am, but here were two quite elderly people moving toward what will no doubt become the centre of the rocket park display when the restoration is finally completed at some time in the
future – a complete, full-size, Saturn Five Rocket.
The sleeping monster currently resting on its side on the far side of the Rocket Park and taking up nearly one entire side of the Rocket Park is one of the rockets intended to be used toward the back end of the Apollo programme, to lift yet another three astronauts on the start of their journey to the Moon. Budgetary cut-backs meant that this Saturn Five never got the chance to full-fill its intended destiny and the story of how it found its way to Space Camp goes something like this.
When the Apollo era came to its unfortunate and in my opinion un-timely demise due to cut-backs, the rockets chief creator Doctor Werner Von Braun persuaded the American Government to mount the rockets component sections on huge, multi-wheeled trailers and take the Saturn Five on a tour of the USA. When the rocket finally found its way to Space Camp he managed to get the rocket declared a national monument meaning that it could not be moved and had to stay exactly where it was at the camp. Over the years the Saturn Five’s condition has deteriorated to such an extent that a national "Save the Saturn Five" campaign is now underway to raise the five million dollars that are needed to restore the Saturn to its former glory. It is my understanding that at the present time one and quarter million dollars have been raised for the project. Until all the money has been raised the work rests with a small team of contractors and the dedication shown by people like the two I was now looking at, who are prepared to get out of bed even at this early hour and work toward restoring America’s national space heritage.
By now it was nearing 7.30 am and as breakfast was due to start at 8.00, I decided to make my way to the cafeteria (See Picture Two) to see how things were organised for what would be my first early morning meal at the camp. As it turned out it was also time for my first shock of the day as well.
I walked into the cafeteria at just before 7.45 am not knowing what to expect. Would there be a queue, or would it be a straight through affair? What I found was most of my team mates already sat down and eating breakfast. It would seem that they, like me had also been up early and on the move. As I found out later this early congregation of crew mates was something they did on a regular basis to enable them to talk about the day to come and was a practice they started years before. Clearly this was a group who loved being together, so much so that they were willing to travel many thousands of miles just to be able to get together for just one week.
Getting some food and sitting down with the others I started eating and got talking to Mike (Sims) Williams the surgeon from Boston. Mike started out by asking me if I was enjoying myself so far, and I once again got the chance to explain to him a little of what had been going through my mind since arriving at the camp the day before. Whilst I cannot remember his exact words, I do remember that he echoed what Carol Johnson had said, and it was at this point that the members of the group who had overheard our conversation joined in to echo Carol and Mike’s words. From that moment onwards I stopped worrying, started to enjoy myself and we started to become a team.
Breakfast completed we made our way to the Camp’s gift shop for what is actually another scheduled event – the purchase of the Flight Suit.
9.00 am to 9.30 am
The camps gift shop is located between the main entrance foyer and the museum and I made my way to the shop with Carol Johnson, Greg Cwayna and Cliff McCullough.
Its now time to introduce you at another member of the group. Greg Cwayna (call-sign Rockhound) is a Petroleum Geologist from Oklahoma, who like the other members of the group is a veteran and has been coming to Space Camp for the last 13 years. On his early visits he even came with his daughter as part of the Parent and Child Programme that is another one of the curriculum events that the camp holds.
Greg told me he was considering buying a new flight suit but before looking for his new one he took the time and trouble to show me round the gift shop and to show me how things were laid out. He helped me select a flight suit and then told me about an extra additional feature that the suits have – the name plate patch. The name plate patch is a velcro backed leather patch which has stamped on it the winged shield insignia of the United States Astronaut Corp. To this patch can be added either the full name of the owner or their call-sign. Greg told me I could have either and these are added in a few minutes by a special machine the gift shop has. I decided to pass on the name plate patch for the moment and come back and have it done after I had given careful thought for a suitable call-sign. I paid for my flight suit but unfortunately Greg was un-able to find one in a size to fit him. By this time it was 9.30 and time for the next item on the agenda – Orbiter Systems.
9.30 am to 10.30 am
The previous days lecture on the various components which make up the Shuttle Transportation System or STS as it is more commonly known, had covered nearly every aspect of the system but two. It was now time for those two areas to be covered.
I have to admit to a slight memory blank at this time and tell you that for the life of me I cannot remember who gave the lecture on Orbiter Systems. All I can tell you is that once again it was presented with incredible detail and in a very professional manner in keeping with all the lectures and technical briefings we attended whilst on the programme.
The lecturer covered the two of the main areas that we as trainees would come into contact with whilst on the programme – The Flight Deck and The Mid-Deck of the orbiter.
Whilst the front end of the orbiter is actually made up of three decks, it is only the Flight Deck and Mid-Deck which are talked about the most. There is also a Lower Deck but this is used mainly for storage.
I’ll not go into the specifics of the description and discussion which took place on the orbiters Flight Deck and Mid-Deck operations I am sure that most of you who are hopefully reading this article are as conversant with them as I now am. The only thing I will say once again is that this lecture was presented with the same level of detail and in the same professional manner as the one that had taken place on Space Shuttle Orientation the night before and leave it at that.
10.30 am to 12.00
The next item on the agenda left the group with some spare time and we split into various sub groups to do our own things and we agreed as a group to meet back at the Hab at 12.00.
"Have you seen the Rocket Park?" asked Carol Johnson. I explained to her that I had been up early that morning and had been walk-about with my camera and that this was one of the areas I had covered. "Did you see the Space Shot?" she asked. "Yes" I replied but then confessed that I had no idea what it was or what it was for. "You must try it" she said, and she, I and Cliff McCullough made our way through the Museum and out into the Rocket Park.
Here’s where I get to introduce you all to another member of the group. Cliff McCullough (call-sign Deadly Duck) is a diagnostic software engineer from Florida, who is a four year veteran of Space Camp. He is yet another person who was a relative stranger to me at the time, but would become like family by the end of the week.
The three of us made our way across the Rocket Park and walked toward a structure which was nearly as tall as the Saturn Rocket we passed on our journey. It was at this time that I started to get a vague idea of what the Space Shot was, and started to wonder that if my suspicion was correct, would the breakfast I had eaten earlier still be with me by lunch time.
Before reaching the Space Shot, Carol asked if I seen the G-Force simulator? "No I replied, what it is it?" "Oh you must try it" she replied. "It spins you up so that you can experience the same force the astronauts feel just after lift-off", so we detoured slightly way from the Space Shot and made our way to the G-Force building.
The best way to describe the G-Force ride is to say that it’s as scary as hell at the beginning, an incredible experience in the middle, and the end leaves you feeling like you have been kicked in the back by a horse. We entered the building, which is circular, and were shown by one of the operators to a series of couches that are spread around the outside wall. You then lay back in one of the couches which are at about a 70 degrees angle to the wall and the operator straps you in. The operator then gives you the instruction, "whilst the room is in motion – DO NOT MOVE YOUR HEAD TO THE SIDE as this can cause injury to the neck". The operator then leaves the room, closes the door and a second operator in a control booth in the centre of the room asks you if you are all ready to start? "Yes" we replied as one. The room goes dark, the room starts to spin and as it spins faster and faster the couch you are lifts away from the wall and you start to experience a combination of what it would be like to have a small elephant sit on your chest, whilst at the same time feel what it must be like at lift-off – I tell you, it’s a very, very strange feeling. The last part of the experience is one I would forgo if possible, but as its part of the ride you do not have a lot of choice. As the room starts to slow down as the ride is coming to a stop, you get to point where the couch you are on is no longer held up by the speed that the room has been spinning at. It’s at this point the couch drops back to wall with a force which leaves you feeling like you have been kicked in the back by a horse. The room then comes to a stop, the operator re-enters the room, you are un-strapped and you exist the building. Did I enjoy it – YES?
Next up was the Space Shot, and I have to confess to a feeling of slight dread as I had figured out what was to come. The Space Shot is exactly as its name implies a device which quite literally shoots you toward space with a force which is exactly like that felt by today’s shuttle astronauts. In the early of space exploration (Mercury, Gemini and Apollo) the rockets they used had to quite literally claw their way off the launch pad at lift-off. Not the shuttle, as Bob Crippen, who along with John Young flew the first test flight of the STS system said in an interview given many years ago "once you light those solid rocket boosters you are away" and that’s exactly what the Space Shot does for you. At launch you feel as if your heart has been forced down toward your ass, there is a split second of charm as you hit the top of the ride and this is followed by the feeling that your heart is now travelling toward your brain in an attempt to leave your body via the top of your head. Did I enjoy it – YES?
I am glad to say that my breakfast stayed with me for both rides and as there was still time before the next item on the agenda we met up with some of the other guys and had an enjoyable time having a conducted tour of the Museum with Carol as our guide.
12.00 to 12.30 pm
One aspect of the training programme that I had known about before coming to Space Camp, I had found out about via the Camp’s web-site many weeks before, this was the Custom Patch. For this next item on the agenda we re-located as a team back to the Hab. The Custom Patch (See Picture THREE) is designed along similar lines to those worn by all astronauts on their flight suits and various other items of clothing.
The Camp has a total of SIX pre designed patches for astronaut trainees which come in the form of what I would call a "Blank". That is a patch with a design on it but no crew names. The group selects one design as a team for their mission/crew patch. To this patch are added the names of the trainees and these patches are presented as part of the packages which are given out at the end of the week at graduation.
It was during patch selection that I got my first really physical sign that the group had taken me on-board as one of their own. Of the six patches, two of them have American flags on them, but I am not American (except perhaps in spirit to a certain extent), and I was just about to request that if possible one of the patches without the American flag was selected when someone beat me to it. Standing beside me Greg suggested to the group, that as I was not an American, and we were now an international group so to speak, it might be a good idea if the group picked one of the patches without the American flag on it, and he asked me which one I liked. I had my eye set on the one with the Manned Manoeuvring Unit on it, and Mike also stated that he had his eye on that one as well. The group debated this patch and another that other members of the team had their eye on, but in the end the MMU patch was selected for our crew patch.
12.00 to 12.30 pm
Time for lunch and once again I have to say the food was great and seconds were available for anyone who was interested.
12.30 pm to 1.30 pm
The first item on the agenda after lunch was the Spacedome Movie to be shown in the Museums IMAX cinema. Now it has been many, many years since I have last been to the cinema. I think that last movie I went to see was Terminator II, as these days I prefer to wait for either the video or DVD so I can watch it in the comfort of my own home. I have therefore never been to an IMAX cinema and it’s was now time for my next big surprise of the week. I’ll not go into the technicalities of the IMAX and how it works except to say that’s it has a huge domed screen which fills nearly your entire field of vision.
The film to be shown was "Space Station", narrated by Tom Cruise and I have to say that my first experience of an IMAX, along with the movie that was shown, and the way its was filmed, edited and presented left me in an emotional state near to tears. It was such an incredible experience for me and one of the first things I did when I had some spare time on my hands was to go to the gift shop to see if they had the movie in stock. Sadly they did not, but it’s on my "wants" list for the future.
1.30 pm to 2.30 pm
Next on the agenda was the Scuba Intro lecture, given in the Corporate Room over looking the MCC, and again for the life of me I cannot remember who gave the lecture, all I will say, once again, is that like all the lectures we attended at Space Camp as part of the Advanced Adult Space Academy Programme, it was presented in an excellent manner and in incredible detail. There’s one other thing I will let you know about at this time. In a past life I have scuba dived as a hobby, and whilst it has been many years since I last dived in the UK, I found the lecture a refreshing reminder of years gone by.
2.30 pm to 3.30 pm
Next up was the lecture, given once again in the same Corporate Room as the Scuba Intro, on Rocketry Guide Lines. The lecture on this occasion was given by Jeff.
Now one of my hobbies is model building and I have built models of rockets in the past for display, but never one which required that the rocket be able to have an engine or engines fitted in it so that it could fly, so most of what I was about to hear was new to me.
We covered design and how this affects flight. The rockets need for a centre of balance was covered. We also covered the need for the rockets centre of pressure to be as correct as possible and how this interacts with the rockets centre of balance, which was right over my head at the present time, and it has only been since I got back to the UK, and have done quite a bit of research on this subject that I have come to appreciate how important this aspect is in rocket design, and what factors are used to control it.
Once again this was an incredibly complex and well presented lecture and illustrates once again the commitment made by the training staff at Space Camp to make the training experience as enjoyable and as real as possible for the trainees.
3.30 pm to 5.00 pm
Next on the agenda was a Teambuilding Exercise, to be held at the Camps Area 51 facility (See Picture FOUR).
Area 51 is located about half a mile from the main Space Camp complex and at first glance and from the outside Area 51 looks a bit like an old fashioned wooden stockade or fort with a high wooden fence all the way around it. It’s a building style which is continued on the inside to form a series of obstacle’s which the trainees have to overcome.
Jeff decided to select Cliff as team leader and took him to one side to discuss the task. They returned after about five minutes and Jeff informed us that the task involved a simulated escape from a prison camp. The aim was to get the seven members of the team over a series of obstacles from one part of Area 51 to the another. All we had to work with were three large planks of wood and our brains. There was one other thing he mentioned. Only Cliff would be allowed to speak during the exercise. Once again I’ll not go into all the technical details except to say that non-verbal communications skills played a big part in the exercise and that we managed to complete the exercise once again to Jeff’s satisfaction.
5.00 pm to 6.00 pm (and longer)
It was now time for the start of the mission training sessions in the MCC. First up was Alpha Mission and this was to be my first real look at the inside of the Enterprise oriter simulator that we would be using during the entire week. To say this simulator is impressive (see picture FIVE) is an understatement. The Flight Deck and Mid-Deck are kitted out nearly exactly as you would find on the real shuttle, the only thing that is missing are the toilet facilities, and during missions that’s the only time a personal EVA or a P-EVA as it is more commonly referred is allowed.
The simulator has also been kitted out so the maximum usage can be made of it in the Cargo Bay is a mock up of the Space Hab Module, which also allows for an air-lock to be part of the set-up allowing EVA’s to take place into the Cargo Bay of the simulator.
For the Alpha Mission training Jeff had selected the following positions for each of us:-
Flight Director – Mike
EVA Controller - Carolyn
Propulsion – Greg
Capcom - Cliff.
Commander – Carol
Pilot – Bill
Mission Specialist 1 – Phil.
Jeff remained behind in Mission Control or MOCR (Mission Operations Control Room) as it is more commonly referred and we got to meet yet another member of the Space Camp team who I would come know and admire. Sarah is commonly referred to as a GHOST in the MCC as her job most of the time is to play the part of an invisible person, there to provide the trainees with the sort of problems they can expect to find in weightless conditions when something goes wrong or they have made a slip-up of some kind.
The problems you can expect come in all shapes and sizes and can range from giving secret instructions to one of the trainees that they have suddenly become ill with certain symptoms, which the other trainees have to diagnose and treat, to moving about the cabin an item which the trainees have forgotten to secure and which will therefore float freely about due to zero gravity and can cause all sorts of problems.
I cannot discuss what the others were doing during their training as they were either in Mission Control or on the Flight Deck of the orbiter, so here’s my story.
For me it was my first taste of an EVA. Now the thing to remember is that space suits are very, very, very expensive items of clothing so at Space Camp improvisation is the key word. My suit was made up of a set of white coveralls, white boots and white gloves. Underneath the coveralls an ice vest is provided for you to wear during EVA’s, and believe me when I tell it’s needed. During this EVA and all the EVA’s to follow my fellow trainees and I would get very, very warm. The vest has two strip of ice which run down either side of the zip on the front, with three similar strips running down the back. You feel the cold when you first put one on but this soon passes as you start to warm up during the EVA. The last item of clothing is the one thing which could be described as near the "real deal" when it came to being part of a space suit. A full face helmet, with lights and a cooling fan (and believe me you need it) completes the suit.
Before I put on the suit I was required to take a pre-EVA medical exam, which Sarah showed me how to do for myself and so that if ever the need arose (and it did) I could give medicals to the other trainees. The medical involved taking temperature and blood pressure measurements, and once taken these were passed on to Carol in Mission Control. Next up is the suit and I then entered the simulators air-lock and commenced simulated pre-breathing d) whilst the air pressure was reduced to that which would normally be found in the weightless conditions in space. Sarah remained with me the whole time showing me how the air-lock and air pressure reductions controls worked for when it was my turn to do it on my own. Once again all questions were answered and we covered everything until it was clear in my mind.
Next up is the egress from the air-lock into the cargo bay of the simulator, and this is done via a ladder which takes you up to an air-lock door. You open the door (which is circular and not small) and exit to the roof of the Space Hab. From here you turn to your left and step down into the harness area. Now remember the aim is make everything as authentic as possible, but the simulator is not in space so how do you simulate zero gravity for trainees working outside in the shuttles cargo bay? The answer is an ingenious harness system which when fitted correctly (very important word that so please remember I said it) will allow the trainees to hang horizontally and fly about the cargo bay in exactly the same way they would have to move if they were in space.
Sarah first showed me the harness I would be using, and described in detail how it worked. We went over this again and again until both I and she felt I had it clear in my mind. Next up is the actual fitting of the harness and this she did for me whilst singing what I recognised to be opera and illustrating that the only way to fit the harness correctly is to act like a ballerina and stand of tip toes or as she would describe it (on more than one occasion) tippee-toes. It was at this time that I gave her the nick-name that she had to put up with until the end of camp (Crazy Sarah) which she took, I am pleased to say, in good grace and never got offended over. One thing I want to point out at this time, because its important, is the fact that whilst all this comical joviality was taking place she acted in a thoroughly professional manner, and to be honest I found her sense of humour rather refreshing as it helped a lot to calm my nerves from what was taking place around me.
Next up is the part where you find out if the harness is fitted correctly or not. As Sarah had explained there are harness fitting’s which go around the tops of the legs and others which fit near your shoulders all of which are to the rear of your body and not at the front. A final fitting, which rests mid-way down your back, is then attached to a very long chain which extends to the guide rails in the roof of the MCC.
Its now time to test if the chain is fitted in the correct position and this means you have to put your trust in the person doing the fitting because it requires that you turn round from the fitting position in the cargo bay, and allow yourself to fall forward into the arms of the person who has fitted the chain to your harness. It’s at this point that one of three things can happen. One the chain is too high and you ended up hanging with your legs pointing toward the floor and this is no good at all since you will not be able to move around in the cargo bay. Two the chain can be in exactly the right position in which case you end up hanging horizontally which is exactly the angle you need to be to carry out the various movements you will need to make during the EVA. Three (and this is the scary one) the chain can be too low in which case you fly head first toward the floor on the side of the Cargo Bay and give your head a very uninteresting bump or worse. Its safety first when fitting the harness and one of the things Sarah allowed me to do at the end of the EVA was fit the harness to her for about 20 minutes until both she and I were happy that I could do it correctly for anyone else who would need a harness fitting by me in the future. There’s another interesting reason why it’s important to be balanced as horizontally as possible when using the harness and that is so that if you ever have to over balance for some reason to either stand up or reach down it’s a simple matter of shifting your balance one way or the other.
Next up came the fitting of the communication set to be used during the EVA. This was so that I could communicate with Sarah (who would be giving me instructions on how to carry out the task I was there to perform) and Carol in Mission Control who would be overseeing my progress. Once again let me remind you that space suits are very, very expensive and improvisation is once again required. The communication headset is a radio microphone connected to a pair of headphones with a battery power supply. The control box for this clips to the harness you are wearing. Next up came the tether line. Once hanging horizontally over the Cargo Bay you have to be able to manoeuvre round it and this is accomplished by the use of a tether line which straps to your harness and three steel cables which are fixed around the sides of the cargo bay. At each corner of the bay the cables are fixed so you have to manoeuvre yourself into a corner of the Cargo Bay and then transfer the tether line from one cable to the next.
Next up was the task to be carried out in the Cargo Bay, and it would have been hard without the suit and the harness, but with it, it became an interesting nightmare. The task required that I assemble a framework type structure using a combination of steel bars with screws on the end and round nodules with threaded holes in them. The nodules were stored in a bag which I collected from one of two storage bays which are located on the left hand side of the cargo bay as you are facing rearward. During the training mission I would be required to carry the bag around my neck, extracting and fitting nodules from the bag as I needed them. The steel bars were to be found in a storage pod located to the rear of the cargo bay and on its right hand side, requiring that I move backward and forward along the side of the cargo bay from the assembly area of the frame to the storage pod each time a bar had to be fitted. As I was only able to fit the bars one at a time the task required quite a few backward and forward movements. I‘ll not go into anymore details and bore you too much about the task except to say that eventually I completed the task and to also say that if this is something astronauts have to do whilst training for EVA’s I take my hat off to them. By the end of the EVA I had sweat running down my face and the ice in the ice vest had half melted.
The final part of the EVA was the return journey to the orbiter. I once again took the time to run through the un-harnessing and harnessing procedure just to make sure I had down ok for the next time. Re-entering the orbiter after un-harnessing would require that once again I had to pre-breath as the pressure in the airlock was returned to the which you could expect to find inside the orbiter during a real mission in space. After that came un-suiting and stowing your gear and I noticed as I removed my ice vest that the ice in it had actually half melted. This completed training for the Alpha Mission which would take place later on in the week.
6.00 pm to 6.30 pm
Dinner and the same old story – the food is great.
6.30 pm to 7.30 pm
Next up on the agenda was the Flight Intro briefing which was conducted by a young lady called Daisy from Space Camps sister camp Aviation Challenge. Whilst Space Camp deals with space related areas, Aviation Challenger or AC deals mainly with the fighter pilot side of things and offers sessions with pilot training of all kinds. Because some of our training would be done from time to time at AC we had the chance to meet some of the people from both sides.
The briefing covered flight physiology and discussed the Mach III flight simulators we would be using for our flight training. We would be trained to fly two types of fighter aircraft, the two seater training versions of the F-18 Hornet Fighter and T-38 Talon Trainer. The T-38 Talon is the one most of the flight qualified NASA astronauts use for commuting to the various NASA sites around the USA.
We covered the cockpit control systems, including all the switches, the heads up display or HUD as it is more commonly referred and the controls for the rudder and brakes.
Daisy took us through the pre-flight check-list from engine start to take-off and also what to expect and do once we were in the air (?) and how to land. Once again it was a very well given lecture, but as I was to find out later theory and practice are two very, very different things when it come to handling a fighter plane.
7.30 pm to 9.00 pm and longer (10.00 pm)
Time now for the Bravo Mission Training, and below are the mission positions that we were each assigned to by Jeff:-
On the Orbiter
Commander – Carolyn
Pilot – Cliff
Mission Specialist One – Phil
Mission Specialist Two – Greg
In Mission Control
Flight Director – Bill
Capcom – Mike
EVA Controller - Carol
For the Bravo Mission training, the Mission Specialists would be required to go EVA and fix a communication satellite. I’ll give you the scenario for the mission and then explained what happened.
Suspended over the Cargo Bay of the Enterprise shuttle simulator is a replica of the Westar Communications satellite. I cannot tell you how accurate a replica it is never having seen the Westar satellite, but knowing the people at Space Camp as I now feel I do, I think its safe to say that it must be pretty accurate. Mounted on the top of the Westar are two antennae dishes which for some un-explained reason have stopped working and have to be replaced. The satellite with its attached Payload Assist Module or PAM is about 20 feet tall with a diameter of about 15 feet. Having had to move it using only one hand I estimate the weight to be in the region of about two to three tonnes.
The story goes that the shuttle has manouvoured into a position just underneath the satellite; astronauts have then left the shuttle to repair the satellite and replace both its antennae. That’s the story - now here’s the practice.
As repair of the Westar is a two person operation I would be working with Greg, with Crazy Sarah as our Ghost and at times invisible assistant.
I took Greg through the pre-EVA medical procedure, and the results were sent to Carol in Mission Control who was acting as EVA Controller. We then suited up, entered the air-lock, pre-breathed and egressed the shuttle. Here’s where things stated to get interesting. Rather than both Greg and me using the harnesses for working in the Cargo Bay, Greg would be using the harness and I would get my first chance to use yet another piece of incredible equipment which is in the Cargo Bay of the Enterprise orbiter simulator at Space Camp. The Canadarm for those of you that do not know is a three sectioned crane like device used by the shuttle astronauts to deploy and capture satellites in space. The arm has a shoulder, elbow and wrist joints and has been designed to be as multi-functional as possible and that’s where I came into the picture. The Canadarm also has the ability to have an astronaut strapped onto the end of it with a set of controls so the astronaut can manovour the arm into various positions to carry out various jobs in space.
Some of you who are reading this have no doubt noticed that the line between us as trainees, and the training/work done by real astronauts is starting to get just a little bit blurred. Trust me when I say there’s a reason for this, but it’s something that I do not plan to discuss until my next or Day Three article. All I will say is its important, so please be patient.
Back to the story. I took Greg though the harnessing-up procedure, watched over by Sarah and I am glad to say I got it right first time so that Greg ended up hanging horizontally over the Cargo Bay. Sarah then took me to the Canadarm, strapped me in and explained how the controls worked. As this was my first experience of using the arm, and this was the training mission, I was allowed to practice using the arm until she and I were happy that I could operate it safely. It was also fortunate that I was light enough to be able to use the Canadarm, since on Earth, as in space, there is a weight limit for who can ride the ram. Whilst we were doing this Greg practiced moving about the Cargo Bay in his harness.
Now the procedure for fixing the Westar satellite is not straight forward. Firstly you have to make sure that the PAM rocket located on the satellite cannot fire its engine whilst you are fixing it and this is accomplished by contacting the shuttle to the satellite via an umbilical cable so that override commands can be sent to the PAM engine to switch it to a dormant mode during the repair. The cable is already connected in the Cargo Bay and Sarah passed me the end with the connecting plug so that I could use the Canadarm to reach one of the four instrument/equipment bays on the satellite to make the connection. Now whilst Sarah had passed me the cable the cable is long enough for Greg to have made the journey round the Cargo Bay with it, so this is something that could also have been built into the mission. Once the connection is made the commands to the PAM are overridden and we could move to the next phase of the repair. Now because you cannot move the shuttle simulator all the way up to the satellite a spot of improvisation is called for, and Sarah now lowered the satellite down toward the cargo bay using the chain and hoist the satellite was attached to, until I told her to stop
Once in place Greg was able to reach the satellite and rotate it by hand until he came to the appropriate instrument/equipment bay and ran through the deactivation sequence for the satellite. The entire repair sequence for the satellite was – Deactivate, Repair, Re-Activate, and Run Diagnostic, which had to be done for each repair phase on the satellite.
Once Greg deactivated the satellite he would clear the area allowing me to move into place on the arm so that I could un-latch the first of two antennae dishes on the top of the satellite. I would then pass the dish down to Greg and he would make his way to the far rear wall of the Cargo Bay and retrieve a new dish from its mounting and place the old dish in its place. This is the why its so important that you are correctly balanced in the harness as the mountings for the units which hold firstly the new and then the old dish in place are set below your centre of balance and Greg would have to reach down to exchange the dishes. Greg would then return to me, pass me the new dish and I would fix it in place on the top of the satellite. Greg would then move to one of the equipment/instrument bays and carry out the re-activate and run diagnostic procedure to ensure that the new antennae was working correctly. The same procedure was then followed for the replacement of the second dish. After the repairs were completed to both antennae dishes, I removed the PAM control cable and Sarah would hoist the satellite out of the Cargo Bay to simulate us sending it on its way.
I’ll tell you now Greg may not have been sweating when we started the EVA but by the time we had gone through the entire procedure for fixing the satellite by replacing not one but both of the dishes, the ice in his vest had not only melted but he had acquired quite a head sweat even with the fan running in his helmet.
Task completed we returned to the Mid-Deck and that was the official end to the day.
But not the end of activities for us (Read on).
Time for me to mention the next great thing about being a part of the Adult Advanced Academy Programme - there’s more you ask?
Over the years the veterans group I had become a part of have developed a great working relationship with the various staff who have trained them at Space Camp based on mutual trust, so much so that they are allowed to practice on certain items of equipment outside the camps normal hours.
Located in the second dormitory building (Habitat 2) is a Computer Laboratory. Three of the computers in this room have been set-up to enable the users to run various types of space shuttle simulations, and on more than one evening, after the official day had ended, we would congregate as a group in this room to run landing simulation, after landing simulation, after landing simulation to ensure that hopefully we were ALL ready to handle any type of emergency in this area that Jeff and the other Space Camp staff throw at us during the week.
It is worth noting that the software used for the simulations in this lab is the same software used in the Orbiter simulators in the MMC, but more importantly is the same software used by the at the NASA astronaut training facilities.
Most evenings the un-official day would not end until around 12.00 pm.
Article Three - Day Three