Space shuttle flight deck
Note: We’d like to thank the crew of STS-86 for allowing us to copy some of the modules found on this page.
- Shuttle Mission Simulator (SMS) : Fixed Based (FB) and Motion Based (MB)
- The Motion Base (MB) is a high-fidelity simulator used for the dynamic phases of Shuttle flight. It pitches, rolls, yaws, and vibrates just like the real Shuttle orbiter, and all the primary crew interfaces on the flight deck are functionally represented. The views out the forward windows are a close representation of what we’ll see at launch, on-orbit, and during our return home. If a computer or a main engine is “failed” by the light pen of an instructor down the hall, the crew sees and hears all of the failure “signatures,” and the entire crew must then work together to make it to orbit or to return safely back to earth.
- The Fixed Base (FB) is another high-fidelity simulator that, as the name implies, doesn’t rock-and-roll like the MB. It has a full representation of the flight deck of the orbiter, as well as most of the middeck crew interfaces. Crews train the majority of their on-orbit tasks here, including rendezvous, post-insertion and the deorbit preparations timelines. Our training team uses another control room and a different set of light pens to fail systems and make life challenging for us. The training team not only hears what we’re saying to each other and to “Mission Control” as we’re in the simulator, but they can see what switches we’re moving and the overall status of the ship.
- Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS)
The highest fidelity Shuttle landing simulator on earth, the VMS allows the crew to go all the way from flying down final approach, to landing and rollout of the vehicle. This is in contrast to the STA, which flies down to a simulated touchdown several feet above the runway. The VMS provides six degrees of freedom of motion, and the large bay that houses the simulator enables flight-similar accelerations to be delivered to the crew in the cockpit. A close representation of the Shuttle flight deck and excellent visuals make the VMS one of the best flight training tools available.
- Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL)
The largest indoor pool in the world, it measures 102 feet wide, 202 feet long and 40 feet deep. It’s large enough to accomodate a full Shuttle payload bay mockup, PLUS the entire International Space Station (soon to be launched into orbit). Our EVA space suits (called Extravehicular Activity Mobility Units, or EMUs) and the tools we use are made as neutrally buoyant as possible. We make a serious effort not to “swim” with our feet or arms. With the exception of the water viscosity, “water tank” training is one of the best preparations for the real space walk. While STS-90 has no scheduled EVA, every mission, including our own, has at least two people equipped trained to conduct EVA’s should they be required. For Neurolab the EVA crew is Rick Linnehan and Dave Williams
Single System Trainers (SSTs)
The SSTs are medium fidelity simulators with very close representations of the orbiter flight deck, used for basic orbiter systems instruction and malfunction training. They’re used early in the flight training flow to help refresh knowledge of each system, and for some of the qual lessons. More complex simulations, running multisystem malfunctions simulataneously, require the SMS. The photos show the forward and aft stations of the flight deck. The forward station includes our three cathode ray tube (CRT) displays and keyboards for entering commands to the five general purpose computers (GPCs) on board the Shuttle. On the left, or Commander’s side, you can see the rotational hand controller (RHC) that is used to control the Shuttle’s attitude (a similar RHC exists on the Pilot’s side of the Shuttle, but not present in the SST). The RHC controls the aerosurfaces (elevons, rudder) while we’re in earth’s atmosphere, and commands jet firings while in the vacuum of space so as to point the orbiter in the desired direction. Also plainly seen in the photograph are the ADI and the HSI, devices that display the orientation and the heading of the vehicle—very similar to those in conventional aircraft. Hundreds of switches, circuit breakers and display tapes complete the forward cockpit. Life support, computers and primary flight control are the responsibility of the Commander on the left, while the Pilot controls the main engines, RCS and OMS engines, auxillary power units and the electrical system. The Flight Engineer (MS2) sits between the Commander and Pilot, and helps coordinate working all of the malfunctions and “nominal” procedures. The Flight Engineer is also responsible for many of the overhead switches and circuit breakers, which supply power to many orbiter systems. The Flight Engineer must use a “swizzle stick” to reach them during ascent due to launch accelerations. The Commander and Pilot can’t see or reach most of the overhead panels during launch due to their helmets and the “G’s.”
The aft station is also called the “orbit station,” and has interfaces to fly the orbiter while looking out the aft windows (into the payload bay) or out the overhead window. The aft station is where we control the TV system and the communications system. On the left portion of the photograph you can see a fourth CRT, as well as switches for our water system and the payload bay doors. Switches and circuit breakers for system heaters and other primary equipment are located here, but generally aren’t used during ascent or entry—which is a good thing since the strapped-in crew couldn’t reach them anyway! During the first hour or two after reaching orbit (a time called post-insertion) the aft flight deck is a busy place, as the payload bay doors are opened and the Spacelab module is checked for operational readiness.
Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA)
A highly modified Gulfstream II aircraft simulates the “dive bomber” gliding approach the Shuttle makes just prior to landing. While most commercial airliners approach the runway with a 3 degree glide slope before touching down, the Shuttle comes down a much steeper slope of 20 degrees due to its mass and relatively poor gliding capability. Since Shuttle Commanders only have one shot to get it right—there are no engines to “go around” if the approach doesn’t look good, in contrast to conventional airplanes—a lot of practice is required. The STA looks like a plane from the outside, but can land almost like a Shuttle: at 20 or 30 thousand feet above the ground the instructor pilot turns on the STA’s thrust reversers and speed brakes, making it sink just like a Shuttle on final approach. Shuttle Commanders and Pilots make hundreds of these approaches before each flight, and comment that the real landing was almost exactly what they experienced in the STA. The photo at right shows the Shuttle CDR’s side of the cockpit, with a heads-up display (HUD), a rotational hand controller (RHC) for flying the vehicle, and a cathode ray tube (CRT) display just like in the Shuttle. The instructor pilot sits on the right-hand side of the STA cockpit (not shown), and he or she has conventional aircraft controls and instruments.
- Shuttle Mockups: Full-Fuselage Trainer (FFT) and Crew Compartment Trainer (CCT)
- The Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) is a full scale mockup of the orbiter—minus the wings—that allows crews to train crew escape procedures, in-cabin and payload bay photography, Spacelab ingress and tunnel operations, as well as look at stowage for their flight. The post-insertion timeline (immediately after arrival on-orbit) and deorbit preparations timeline are also simulated here, including configuration of the crew compartment and getting into and out of our orange Launch and Entry Suits (LESs). The FFT is configured specifically for a given crew’s training session. It’s the best place for us to learn about the things we need to do between the shuttle middeck and the Spacelab module, because mockups of the shuttle tunnel adapter and Spacelab transfer tunnel can be placed in the payload bay.
- The Crew Compartment Trainer (CCT) is an accurate representation of the front end of the orbiter, including the flight deck and middeck. The CCT is used in much the same way as the FFT, with the exception that the full payload bay is not represented. CCT’s with an internal airlock (like Columbia ) or with an external airlock (like Endeavour , Discovery , and Atlantis ) are available.
- External Tank Doors 1-G Simulator
In the event of a mechanical or electrical problem that prevented the external tank (ET) doors and latches from closing after ET separation, an EVA crew has the ability to close the latches manually with special tools and techniques. This involves getting beneath the Shuttle, where the doors are located, and using a tool to manually close the latches (seen at the far left of the simulator) so that the doors can swing closed. The EVA crew would also take with them jam removal tools in the event something was blocking the motion of the latches or the doors themselves. This simulator allows the EVA crew to practice these techniques in a shirt sleeves environment, i.e. not underwater in a spacesuit, in the NBL.
EMU Caution and Warning Simulator
Our EVA suits have a self-contained life support system, a communications system and a caution & warning system, all of which must be mastered before stepping out into the vacuum of space. We cannot (and prefer not to!) train procedures for a leaking space suit in a vacuum chamber, so a simulator allows us to train these emergency procedures in a “shirt-sleeves” environment. This computer-controlled simulator includes a representation of the EMU’s display and control module, where we control our suit systems and work malfunctions.
EVA Vacuum Chamber
EVA crew members test their flight EVA suits in this vacuum chamber, which resembles the EVA airlock of the Space Shuttle. Here they can practice their EVA prep procedures and post-EVA tasks. More importantly, astronauts can feel and hear what a suit purge is really like, experience how much stiffer their flight suit is as compared with their “pool suits,” and conduct real suit leak checks (as compared with the computer-game environment of the EMU Caution and Warning Simulator). The chamber runs are a real confidence builder for EVA crews — proving that their suits really do work in vacuum, and that the suits will take care of them on the real EVA day. Since the suits are exposed to vacuum for about an hour during this training, EVA crew members must first perform a 4 hour prebreathe (100% oxygen) to reduce the nitrogen burden in their bloodstream. Without this prebreathe procedure, there would be considerable risk of developing decompression sickness.
- Spacelab Mockups: Spacelab Simulator and Neurolab Mockup
- The Spacelab simulator resides next to the two orbiter fixed base simulators. Although it’s configuration is generic, it includes high fidelity representations of the computers, caution and warning system, windows, and communications found in Spacelab. It’s a great place to practice activating and deactivating the laboratory, and to allow orbiter crew sitting in the fixed base to perfect their skills to control Spacelab from the orbiter flight deck.
- The Neurolab mockup is located in building 36 at Johnson Space Center. This mockup is configured with the hardware similar to what we’ll use aboard our flight. This is the main training site for the payload crew: anything from rehearsing experiments, to learning where to put the garbage! You’ll understand how important this trainer is if you imagine trying to cook a gourmet meal in a kitchen you’ve never seen before. Nothing helps a job go smoother than knowing the what’s, when’s, where’s and how’s to get the task completed.
- Spacelab Processing in the Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center
Ku-Band Antenna Training
EVA crew members always stop by to visit the Ku-band antenna laboratory before flight, since they might be required to manually reposition the antenna if it failed to stow in the proper orientation prior to coming home. The procedure calls for the EVA crew to manually position the gimbals of the antenna, followed by the IV crew commanding the gimbal locks closed from the flight deck of the orbiter. The gimbals themselves are somewhat difficult to see, and even more difficult to draw for a flight procedure. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so seeing the flight hardware must be like seeing a thousand pictures.
Brooks Air Force Base Centrifuge Facility (Armstrong Laboratory)
As you might imagine, it takes quite a bit of accleration to get from ground level and stationary on the launch pad, to 65 nautical miles altitude and an orbital velocity of 17,500 miles per hour in just eight and a half minutes. While we spend hours and hours of training in the SMS, simulating launch conditions with similar motion, vibrations and sounds, it cannot replicate the “G-profile” of a real launch. So the G’s don’t come as a surprise to first-time Shuttle flyers (there’s 5 of us on STS-90), they fly out to San Antonio and the Brooks Air Force Base centrifuge. It’s an invaluable lesson to feel the G’s and evaluate one’s reach and visibilty on the way “uphill” to orbit. Trying to lift your arm to reach an overhead switch in the SMS in shirt sleeves is far easier than trying to do this just prior to Main Engine Cut-Off (MECO), when your body is experiencing three times the force of gravity. The acceleration is felt directly through the chest, so many astronauts describe the G’s during launch “as if a Gorilla was sitting on my chest!”
A Shuttle launch is broken down into two parts: first stage and second stage. First stage refers to flight right off of the launch pad, when the two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) are firing. Second stage refers to flight from SRB separation (2 minutes into the flight) all the way out to MECO (8.5 minutes into the flight). In first stage the crew experiences not much more than 2 G’s, followed by a sharp drop-off after SRB separation. The G’s then build back up to 3 G’s about a minute before MECO. Although not painful, it is a bit more work to breathe under 3 G’s, and the rapid switch throws the crew is accustomed to performing in the SMS are demonstrated to be more difficult.