Doug Goodman

Texas Horror Writer. Cadaver Dog Handler.

Doug's Blog

My Time in Mission Control

Posted by douggoodman on July 21, 2011 at 6:22 AM

Because the last Space Shuttle, Atlantis, just landed, I am up early and watching JSC celebrations on my television.  There was a beauty to Atlantis rolling to a stop in the black of morning with the spotlights behind it.  It made me think of my time working at Mission Control.


Don't get too excited.  I am a tech writer, so I never worked console and I never had to engineer a fix in the middle of Flight or play a role in which my performance had ultimate consequence.  But there is a reproduction room in Mission Control, and it is staffed 24/7 while the Shuttle is flying.  That is where I worked for a couple of weeks in 2000/2001.  (I can't remember if it was STS-101 or STS-102).  Curse my memory!!


I worked the graveyard shift from 10-6 because I was young and that was the only option available.  What I remember most about working at MCC was just how cool it felt, like you were a part of something special, even if it was only in a small way.  Up till that point I had worked offsite in a semi-large nondescript office building covered with windows.  So working Mission Control was my first time to actually go onsite.


To get to work I would drive down Saturn Lane.  It was dark already and there was a rejuvenating breeze in the air.  The kind of wind that makes you feel good even when you want to feel bad.  The breeze drove away Houston's ever-encroaching humidity, and I will always remember just how nice the weather was then.  To get to work you had to pass the giant Saturn V rocket in Rocket Park.  That thing is enormous.  Because it is now covered up by a building, you don't get a feel for the proportion and size of the rocket, but it is immensely huge.  The building barely covers it.  Driving past the Saturn V every day (err...night)  was a visual reminder of the kind of work that was being done.


But it got cooler.  Working in the repro room you were responsible for handling all copy requests, but you also had to deliver a copy of the daily mission update to everybody working in the building.  This was done around 5 am usually and was always exciting because you got to enter the Flight Control Room and see all the important people working at the consoles, which had interesting names like CAPCOM and FIDO and THOR.  You also dropped off materials at the MERs, which were the rooms full of engineering teams that backed up every person on console.  The MERs had long tables full of every kind of food imaginable, so it looked kind of like a celebrity rider list.  (Though I would wager the engineers worked harder than some of those entertainers.)


Best part had to be visiting the old Apollo room.  You get a real sense of history walking around that room with all the green consoles and the vaccuum tubes.  That is where I went on my breaks, just to sit there and enjoy it for what it was. 


I only worked Mission Control for a couple of weeks, and after that I went on to work for the Cockpit Avionics Upgrade, the Integrated Problem Reporting and Corrective Action team, and now I am in Shuttle Archives.  I have visited or worked in many more buildings and seen many of the very cool and interesting things at JSC, but nothing has compared to the couple of weeks I worked at MCC. 


I bought a couple of patches once of flights that I associate myself with.  I bought an STS-99 patch because I worked on some of the Shuttle Topography documents.  I also have a 102 and 101 patch.  One of them I have because I edited a book that flew up in space with my name in it.  (I like to make the bad joke that I have never flown in space, but "Doug Goodman" has been to space and orbitted the Earth about a hundred times.)  The other is for my brief visit in Mission Control.  Hindsight being 20/20, I should have written down on them which is which...


Now Atlantis has landed, and the word I hear is "bittersweet," and that is a good word to use.  I am thankful for the memories I have with the Shuttle program, but I am also waiting and wondering when will we go back up, and to where?

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