presents this tour of the Mission Control Center... the heart of United States manned spaceflight operations.
"Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed"
Those words, the first ever transmitted to Earth by a human being from the surface of the Moon, are testimony to the essential role played by the Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Since 1965, the Mission Control Center (MCC) has been the nerve center for America's manned space program. The men and women who work in Building 30 at the Johnson Space Center have been vital to the success of every manned space flight since Gemini 4. These teams of experienced engineers and technicians monitor systems and activities aboard spacecraft 24 hours a day during missions, using some of the most sophisticated communication, computer, data reduction, and data display equipment available.
They watch every movement the crew and spacecraft make, double-check every number to be sure missions are proceeding as expected, and provide the expertise needed to deal with the unexpected.
During the Mercury project, when mission control was at Cape Canaveral, capsules were controlled almost entirely from the ground. The capsule's manual control systems served in most cases as backups to the automated systems, and astronauts relied heavily on ground control for solutions to problems that arose. As spacecraft became more complex in the Gemini years, dependence on the new MCC in Houston lessened slightly. During Apollo, when distance and communications breaks made it necessary, some onboard systems became prime while others retained their reliance on MCC direction.
The frequent missions of the Space Shuttle program required a new approach to flight control. Because there is more data to monitor than the crew has time to manage, the flight control team's main responsibility is evaluating the data to provide the crew with additional insight and aid it in managing the complex systems of the Orbiter.
From the moment the Solid Rocket Boosters ignite at liftoff to the moment the landing gear wheels roll to a stop at the end of a mission, the MCC is the hub of communication and support for the Shuttle.
The MCC's focal point is the Flight Control Room, or FCR (pronounced "Ficker"), where flight controllers get information from console computer displays or from projected displays that fill the wall at the front of the room. Almost everyone has seen the television pictures of MCC flight controllers working feverishly at their consoles, headsets in place.
Flight controllers who work in the FCR represent only the tip of the staffing iceberg in the MCC. Each of the 15 to 20 flight controllers who sits at a console in the FCR has the help of many other engineers and flight controllers monitoring and analyzing data in nearby staff support rooms.
What's "The Trench"?
"We call the first row in the control center 'The Trench.'
There's a debate about how it really got its name but it's the lowest row of consoles in the control center and we called it 'the first line of defense in manned space flight.'
We were the guys in the trench: the Retrofire Officer, the Flight Dynamics Officer and the Guidance Officer. We were the ground pilots, if you will, who tracked the spacecraft, calculated the maneuvers and told the astronauts what time to burn, what maneuvers to do and where to go. So, we were a proud bunch."
Flight Dynamics Branch
Flight Control Room Positions
If you visit the FCR, you'll notice initials or names placed atop each console. These are abbreviations for each console's function. Each console also has a "call sign," the name the controller uses when talking to other controllers over the various telephone communication circuits. In some cases, console names or initials are the same as the call signs. Mission command and control positions, their respective initials, call signs, and responsibilities are:
Flight Director (FD), call sign "Flight," serves as leader of the flight control team, and is responsible for overall Shuttle mission and payload operations and all decisions regarding safe, successful flight conduct;
Spacecraft Communicator (CAPCOM), call sign "Capcom," serves as primary communicator between flight control and astronauts. The initials are a holdover from earlier manned flight, when Mercury was called a capsule rather than a spacecraft;
Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO), call sign "Fido," plans all maneuvers and is responsible for the overall trajectory from launch, on-orbit operations, deorbit, entry, and landing;
Guidance Procedures Officer (GPO), call sign "Guidance," monitors onboard navigation and onboard guidance computer software;
Propulsion Engineer (PROP), monitors and evaluates reaction control and orbital maneuvering propellants and other consumables available for maneuvers;
Guidance, Navigation, and Controls Systems Engineer (GNC), monitors all vehicle guidance, navigation and control systems;
Data Processing System Engineer (DPS), is responsible for data processing system including the five onboard general purpose computers;
Booster Engineer (Booster), monitors and evaluates main engine, solid rocket booster and external tank performance during pre-launch and ascent phases of missions;
Payload Deploy Retrieval (PDRS), monitors operation of the remote manipulator system;
Electrical, Environmental, Consumables Manager (EECOM), responsible for environmental, air, and water resources;
Electrical Generation and Illumination Engineer (EGIL), monitors electrical systems, fuel cells and associated cryogenics;
Integrated Communications Officer (INCO), plans and monitors in-flight communications and instrumentation systems configuration;
Russian Interface Operator (RIO), The Russian Interface Officer serves as the primary interface between the U.S. and Russian control teams;
Ground Controller (GC), ensures the MCC is functioning properly and coordinates outside data and communications traffic;
Flight Activities Officer (FAO), plans and supports crew activities, checklists, procedures and schedules;
Payloads Officer (Payload), coordinates onboard and ground system interfaces between the flight control team and payload user;
Maintenance, Mechanical, Arm, and Crew Systems (MMACS), call sign "Max", monitors operation of the orbiter's structural and mechanical system;
Public Affairs Officer (PAO), provides mission commentary to supplement and explain air-to-ground transmissions and flight control operations to the news media and the public;
Surgeon (Surgeon), monitors crew activities and health status;
Mission Operations Directorate Manager (MOD), provides a link from the FCR to top NASA and JSC Missions Operations Directorate management.