Sunday, November 1, 2009

Long Overdue NASA Pictures

So roughly three weeks ago, I made a trip to Houston with my girlfriend to attend a wedding. While we were there, I had the luxury of going to the Johnson Space Center, and seeing all kinds of awesome NASA stuff. I won't explain how we got to do some of the things we got to do, but let's just say my tour of NASA included a lot of things your average tourist doesn't get to see.

For starters, here's part of the astronaut training facility. It has mock-ups of every module found in the ISS.
Here's a little model of the ISS. There are (and have been for years) human beings continuously living in space. We're really neat animals, no?
Here's the mock-up of the space shuttle.

I got to fly the simulator for the space shuttle. This was the same sim used to train astronauts for decades. Since it was built in the early 1980's, it is powered by a refrigerator-sized computer with about the same processing power as a cell phone -- however, according to the technician who fired the thing up for me, the physics of it are quite good (even if the graphics are a little wanting). I got to practice several simulated landings, some of which resulted in the simulated astronauts actually surviving.

Next we see one of the humongous Saturn V rockets that took astronauts to the moon. The sheer size of this monster was downright staggering, especially when compared to the payload; the little lunar module could have easily fit inside our living room, but it took a rocket longer than a football field to get it to the moon.

Then we went to old-school mission control -- yes, the one from Apollo 13.

And after that, we got to see new-school mission control for the ISS. Holy shit, how things have changed! I was blown away by how cool the place was -- it put every evil villain's command center that ever came out of Hollywood to absolute shame.
Notice how the number of screens each flight controller has to look at has tripled since the Apollo days. These people are some of the best multi-taskers I've ever seen. Not only does everyone pay attention to the big screens projected on the wall, as well as the six (or more) flat-panel screens at their desks, everyone is also listening to upwards of fifteen simultaneous voice conversations, or loops! See that orange and black screen to the flight controller's left in the picture below? That's the screen which controls the headsets, and determines which loops the flight controllers can hear. The guy working the ECLSS (Environmental Control and Life Support Systems) station is listening to about twenty conversations right now.

Note: while I didn't get to snap any pictures of this process, I did get to "blow something up." I got to fire off an NSA (NASA Standard Initiator), which resembles a spark-plug, except it's packed with high-powered explosives (basically the stuff that makes C-4 plastic explosives go boom, without the extra crap that makes it "plastic"). Those NSA's are used all throughout the space shuttle, 102 of them every launch to be precise, to preform all sorts of useful tasks. They deploy parachutes, separate rocket thrusters, blast off nose cones, and much much more. The amount of explosives in each NSA is pretty small, less than the volume of an eraser on the end of a pencil, but it made a much bigger bang than I was expecting, and I jumped pretty high once it detonated, much to the delight of the people watching (who, knowing much better what to expect, were all standing a solid ten feet further back from the explosion than I was). Next time, I'll be ready for it.


colin said...

sick! new mission control has color television!

Perhaps a Parrot said...

...and WiFi!!!

Eli said...

I'm liking this trend of more regular updates. The natives were getting restless.