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NASA Space Science

Behind the Scenes At NASA's Mission Control Center 38

willith writes "I was recently given the opportunity to spend several hours on the floor of Historic Mission Operations Control Room #2, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. MOCR2 was used to control almost manned Gemini and Apollo mission, including Apollo 11 & 13. More, my tour guide was none other than famous Apollo mission controller Sy Liebergot, one of the fellows behind the solution that saved Apollo 13. I go in-depth on the role of the flight controller during Apollo, and focus on how and why Mission Control functioned, and I spend a lot of time talking about the consoles and how they worked. The feature includes a ton of anecdotes and stories from Mr. Liebergot about mission control in general, and about what he did during Apollo 12 & 13 specifically. I also put together a supplemental report that goes through each and every station and describes their Apollo-era layout."
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Behind the Scenes At NASA's Mission Control Center

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  • thanks! (Score:4, Informative)

    by WGFCrafty ( 1062506 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @01:38AM (#41850453)
    Thanks for spending the time to go through an obscure part of a well known program and writing up some information on it! I don't remember the tour too much from when I was a kid, but it was an awesome place. There's nothing like standing near the assembled Saturn V (I think that's the one there) to truly understand the immense size and power of such a thing, and realizing that one five cent rubber o-ring is enough to destroy this immense machine.

    I always thought one of the most amazing things about rocket engines like the shuttles main engine was the fact that liquid o2 had to first run through holes in the nozzle to warm it up while cooling the nozzle so it didn't melt. It's such an elegant solution that is both simple and incredibly complex at the same time.
  • by toygeek ( 473120 ) on Friday November 02, 2012 @03:43AM (#41850755) Homepage Journal

    According to TFA, the control room featured is mostly Shuttle era equipment, with SOME Apollo era consoles and equipment.

    Interesting things I learned from the article:
    - Bare information from the mainframe (IBM System/360) was combined with an automated slide overlay to make it more readable with column headings and threshold levels etc.
    - Each person manning a console had a small team of people in another room helping them and communicating with them.
    - These people were the real deal, and were hand picked for their positions. People who couldn't deal with the weight of the position were washed out within a year before they ever made it to a live mission.
    - From TFA " Sy recommends the IEEE's three-part article, "Houston, We Have a Solution" as the most complete and accurate retelling of the entire Apollo 13 explosion and its aftermath."
    That is HERE: [] and it is a FANTASTIC read. The lessons learned from Apollo 13 were fantastic, and upgrades were applied before Apollo 14. One major one was that if something went out of spec, a light would come one advising that there was an anomaly. But, if it went away, so did the light. So an intermittent problem had to be caught red handed. By Apollo 14, they'd changed it so that the light *stayed* on until dismissed. Seems obvious now, but back then it wasn't. These people were true pioneers.

  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) * on Friday November 02, 2012 @05:15AM (#41850981) Homepage Journal

    The early shuttle era equipment IS Apollo era equipment.

    Every console had to be be more or less rewired between every Apollo mission to accommodate the new/different equipment on the back end and to meet the unique objectives of every mission. MOCR1 and MOCR2 were wired identically, the idea was if you smoked a console or lost a whole room the controller(s) could move to the other control room and continue working.

    During the shuttle era the consoles were no longer completely rewired each mission as they more or less standardized on equipment. Eventually all of the hard-wired consoles were replaced with PC's running UNIX (they used Alpha's for a long time, now Linux - Red Hat unfortunately) and of course all the equipment in the server rooms interface with those. The serial networks are now being slowly replaced with IP based equipment. Now that the shuttle is gone the elimination of the serial equipment is increasing.

    Another note, the video monitors on the old consoles were HDTV's of their day. Sure they were black and white, but they had more scan lines, nobody that worked on those is on shift at the moment for me to ask but I think they were in the 800 lines range, that's part of why the original Apollo landings were broadcast from a news camera pointed at a monitor instead of from a direct feed - commercial television equipment wasn't designed to work with the video signals we used then.

    There is still just a little bit of Apollo era equipment in use today. The drawings of the projection system hint at the mirrors that bounce the projector images to the screen. In MOCR 2 the original mirrors are still used, but they're mostly for tourist and occasional use, the ones in FCR1 were replaced with Mylar mirrors a couple of years ago. The Apollo era mirrors were incredibly thick and NOT safety glass. One of the workers that was sent to remove the ones for FCR1 was one of the same workers sent to install them 40 something years earlier. The telecom frames from the Apollo era are still in use and actively maintained, there's just not as much frame now as their used to be.

    More trivia - the communications keysets on those old consoles belonged to the VIS system - which stood for Voice Intercommunications System. That was replaced by DVIS which was Digital Voice Intercommunications system. DVIS in now all but replaced by DVICE, Digital Voice Interface Communications Equipment. They still call all of them keysets []. I showed my daughter one of the VIS keysets and asked if she knew what that round thing was for. She had no clue. I explained to her that's how they used to make phone calls.

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