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Flight controllers are personnel who aid in the operations of a space flight, working in Mission Control Centers such as NASAmarker's Mission Control Center, or ESAmarker's Operations Centermarker. Flight controllers sit at computer consoles and use telemetry to monitor in real time various technical aspects of a space mission. Each controller is an expert in a specific area, and is in constant communication with additional experts in the "back room". The Flight Director is the lead flight controller, monitors the activities of others and has overall responsibility for the mission success and safety. A Flight Director leads a team, designated by a color (e.g., Eugene F. Kranz led the White Team, and was known as "White Flight").

NASA's Flight Controllers

The room where the flight controllers work was called the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR, pronounced "moh-ker"), and now is called the Flight Control Room (FCR, pronounced "ficker"). The controllers are experts in individual systems, and make recommendations to the Flight Director involving their areas of responsibility. Any controller may call for an abort if the circumstances require it. Before (and at various stages during) an activity, the Flight Director will "go around the room," polling each controller for a GO / NO GO decision. If all factors are good, each controller calls for a GO, but if there is a problem requiring a hold or an abort, the call is NO GO. Another form of this is STAY / NO STAY, when the spacecraft has completed a maneuver and has now "parked" in relation to another body, including spacecraft (or space stations), orbiting the Earth or the Moon, or the Lunar landings.

Controllers in MOCR/FCR are supported by the "backrooms," teams of specialists located in other parts of the building or even at other facilities across the country. These teams are able to find information and make recommendations to their controller. One example of the usefulness of this system occurred during the descent of the Eagle Lunar Module, when "1202" and "1201" program alarms came from the LM. GUIDO Steve Bales, not sure whether to call for an abort, trusted the experts in the Guidance backroom, especially Jack Garman, who told him that the problem was a computer overload, but could be ignored if it was intermittent. Bales called "GO!," Flight Director Kranz accepted the call and the mission continued to success. Without the support of the backroom, a controller might make a "bad call" based on faulty memory or information not readily available to the person on the console.

The backroom was formally called the Staff Support Room (SSR), and is now called the Multi-Purpose Support Room (MPSR, pronounced "mipser").

Unmanned U.S. space missions also have flight controllers but are managed from separate organizations, either the Jet Propulsion Laboratorymarker or the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratorymarker for deep-space missions or Goddard Space Flight Centermarker for near-Earth missions.

Each flight controller has a unique call sign, which describes the position's responsibilities. The call sign and responsibility refer to the particular console, not just the person, since missions are managed around the clock and with each shift change a different person takes over the console.

Flight controller responsibilities have changed over time, and continue to evolve. New controllers are added, and tasks are reassigned to other controllers to keep up with changing technical systems. For example the EECOM handled Command and Service Module communication systems through Apollo 10, which was afterward assigned to a new position called INCO.

Shuttle and space station flight controllers

There are currently two groups of flight controllers at Johnson Space Centermarker: the International Space Station (ISS) flight controllers and the Space Shuttle flight controllers.

The Space Shuttle flight controllers work relatively brief periods: The several minutes of ascent, the few days the vehicle is in orbit, and reentry. The duration of operations for Space Shuttle flight controllers is short and time-critical. A failure on the Shuttle could leave flight controllers little time for talking, putting pressure on them to respond quickly to potential failures. The Space Shuttle flight controllers generally have limited capability to send commands to the shuttle for system reconfigurations.

In contrast, the ISS flight controllers work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This allows the ISS flight controllers time to discuss off-nominal telemetry. The ISS flight controllers have the opportunity to interface with many groups and engineering experts. The mentality of an ISS flight controller is to preempt a failure. Telemetry is closely monitored for any signatures that may begin to indicate future catastrophic failures. Generally, ISS flight controllers take a prophylactic approach to space vehicle operations. There are command capabilities that ISS flight controllers use to preclude a potential failure.

Responsibility

Flight controllers are responsible for the success of the mission and for the lives of the astronauts under their watch. The Flight Controllers' Creed states that they must "always be aware that suddenly and unexpectedly [they] may find ourselves in a role where [their] performance has ultimate consequences". Well-known actions taken by flight controllers include the following:

  • During the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Lunar Module guidance computer began giving errors which threatened to abort the landing. Guidance officer Steve Bales had only a few seconds to determine it was safe to proceed, which saved the mission. Bales was later honored for his role in the mission, when he was selected to accept the NASA Group Achievement Award from President Richard Nixon on behalf of the Apollo 11 mission operations team.


  • During the launch of Apollo 12, the Saturn V was struck by lightning which knocked out all telemetry and the Apollo guidance unit. This would probably have aborted the mission if EECOM controller John Aaron had not quickly determined that an obscure cockpit switch (controlling telemetry sources) could fix the problem.


  • During space shuttle mission STS-51-F, a main engine failed during ascent to orbit. Subsequently, indications were received of a second engine beginning to fail. If it failed it would cause an emergency landing in Spain, or could possibly cause the shuttle to ditch in the ocean. Booster officer Jenny Howard Stein determined within seconds that the anomalous readings on the second engine were a sensor error and not an engine problem. At her direction the crew inhibited the sensor, which saved the mission and possibly the crew.


Common flight control positions

There are some positions that have and will serve the same function in every vehicle's Flight Control team. The group of individuals serving in those positions may be different, but they will be called the same thing and serve the same function.

Flight Director (FLIGHT)

Leads the flight control team. Flight has overall operational responsibility for missions and payload operations and for all decisions regarding safe, expedient flight. This person monitors the other flight controllers, remaining in constant verbal communication with them via intercom channels called "loops".

Mission Operations Directorate (MOD)

Is a representative of the senior management chain at JSC, and is there to help the flight director make those decisions that have no safety-of-flight consequences, but may have cost or public perception consequences. The MOD cannot overrule the Flight Director during a mission.

Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM)

Generally the only person who communicates directly with a manned space crew. During much of the U.S. manned space program, NASAmarker felt it was important for all communication with the astronauts in space to pass through a single individual in the Mission Control Center. That role was designated the Capsule Communicator or CAPCOM and was filled by another astronaut, often one of the backup crew members. It is believed that an astronaut is most able to understand the situation in the spacecraft and pass information in the clearest and most efficient way.

For long duration missions, there is more than one CAPCOM, each assigned to a different shift team. After control of U.S. spaceflights moved to the Lyndon B.marker Johnson Space Centermarker in the early 1960s, each CAPCOM uses the radio call sign Houston. When non-astronauts are communicating directly with the spacecraft, CAPCOM acts as the communications controller.

Today, non-astronauts from the Space Flight Training branch also function as CAPCOM during ISS missions, while the role is filled solely by astronauts for shuttle missions.

Flight Surgeon (SURGEON)

Directs all operational medical activities concerned with the mission, including the status of the flight crew. Monitors crew health, provides crew consultation, and advises flight director of the crew's health status. A direct communications loop can be established between the mission astronauts and the flight surgeon, in accordance with doctor-patient confidentiality.

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. The individual filling this role is often referred to colloquially as The Voice of Mission Control.

Apollo flight control positions

The flight control positions used during the Apollo era were predominantly identical to the positions used for the Mercury and Gemini vehicles. This was because of the similarity of the vehicle design of the capsules used for the three programs.

Booster Systems Engineer (BOOSTER)

Monitored and evaluated performance of propulsion-related aspects of the launch vehicle during prelaunch and ascent. During the Apollo program there were three Booster positions, who worked only until Trans Lunar Injection ; after that, their consoles were vacated. Booster had the power to send an abort command to the spacecraft. All Booster technicians were employed at the Marshall Space Flight Centermarker and reported to JSC for the launches.

Control Officer (CONTROL)

Responsible for the Lunar Module guidance, navigation and control systems. Essentially the equivalent of the GNC for the Lunar Module.

Electrical, Environmental and Consumables Manager (EECOM)

Monitored cryogenic levels for fuel cells, and cabin cooling systems; electrical distribution systems; cabin pressure control systems; and vehicle lighting systems. EECOM originally stood for Electrical, Environmental and COMmunication systems. The Apollo EECOM was responsible for CSM communications through Apollo 10. Afterward the communication task was moved to a new console named INCO.

Perhaps the most famous NASA EECOMs are Seymour "Sy" Liebergot, the EECOM on duty at the time of the oxygen tank explosion on Apollo 13 and John Aaron, who is credited with saving the Apollo 12 mission after the spacecraft was struck by lightning during launch.

Flight Activities Officer (FAO)

Planned and supported crew activities, checklists, procedures and schedules.

Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO or FIDO)

Responsible for the flight path of the space vehicle, both atmospheric and orbital. During lunar missions the FDO was also responsible for the lunar trajectory. The FDO monitored vehicle performance during the powered flight phase and assessed abort modes, calculated orbital maneuvers and resulting trajectories, and monitored vehicle flight profile and energy levels during re-entry.

Guidance Officer (GUIDANCE or GUIDO)

Monitored onboard navigational systems and onboard guidance computer software. Responsible for determining the position of the spacecraft in space. One well-known Guidance officer was Steve Bales, who gave the go call when the Apollo 11 guidance computer came close to overloading during the first lunar descent.

Guidance, Navigation, and Controls Systems Engineer (GNC)

Monitored all vehicle guidance, navigation and control systems. Also responsible for propulsion systems such as the Reaction and Control System (RCS) and the CSM main engine.

Integrated Communications Officer (INCO)

Responsible for all data, voice and video communications systems, including monitoring the configuration of in-flight communications and instrumentation systems. Duties also included monitoring the telemetry link between the vehicle and the ground, and overseeing the uplink command and control processes. The position was formed from the combination of LEM and CSM Communicator positions.

Network (NETWORK)

Supervised the network of ground stations that relayed telemetry and communications from the spacecraft.

Organization and Procedures Officer (O&P)

Supervised the application of mission rules and established techniques to the conduct of the flight.

Retrofire Officer (RETRO)

Drew up abort plans and was responsible for determination of retrofire times. During lunar missions the RETRO planned and monitored Trans Earth Injection (TEI) maneuvers, where the Apollo Service Module fired its engine to return to earth from the moon.

Telemetry, Electrical, EVA Mobility Unit Officer (TELMU)

Monitored the Lunar Module electrical and environmental systems, plus lunar astronaut spacesuits. Essentially the equivalent of the EECOM for the Lunar Module.

Shuttle flight control positions

Many Apollo program mission control positions were carried forward to the space shuttle program. However, other positions were eliminated or redefined, and new positions were added.

Positions remaining generally the same:
  • Booster
  • FAO
  • FDO
  • Guidance (became Guidance and Procedures Officer, or GPO)
  • GNC
  • INCO (became Instrumentation and Communications Officer)


Positions eliminated or modified:
  • RETRO
  • EECOM (duties split up)
  • TELMU
  • CONTROL


Assembly and Checkout Officer (ACO)

Responsible for all shuttle-based activities related to construction and operation of the Space Station, including logistics and transfer items stored in a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) or Spacehab. Also responsible for all shuttle payloads, from Spacehab to the Hubble Space Telescope to deployable satellites. ACO was formerly known as PAYLOADS.

Booster Systems Engineer (BOOSTER)

Monitors and evaluated performance of propulsion-related aspects of the launch vehicle during prelaunch and ascent, including the main engines and solid rocket boosters.

Data Processing System Engineer (DPS)

Responsible for data processing systems in a space flight. This includes monitoring the onboard General Purpose Computers , flight-critical, launch and payload data buses, the Multi-function Electronic Display System (MEDS), Solid-State Mass Memory (SSMM) units, flight critical and payload Multiplexer/De-multiplexer (MDM) units, Master Timing Unit (MTU), Backup Flight Control (BFC) units and system-level software.

The space shuttle general purpose computers are a critical subsystem, and the vehicle cannot fly without them.

Emergency, Environmental, and Consumables Management (EECOM)

EECOM's revamped shuttle responsibilities include the atmospheric pressure control and revitalization systems, the cooling systems (air, water, and freon), and the supply/waste water system.

MPSR positions
  • Life Support - monitors atmospheric pressure control systems, O2/N2/CO2 maintenance and management, air cooling equipment, waste water systems,
  • Thermal - monitors water and refrigerant coolant loop systems, supply water maintenance


EECOM's critical function is to maintain the systems, such as atmosphere and thermal control, that keep the crew alive.

Electrical Generation and Integrated Lighting Systems Engineer (EGIL)

Monitors cryogenic levels for the fuel cells, electrical generation and distribution systems on the spacecraft, and vehicle lighting. This is a portion of the job formerly done by EECOM.

MPSR positions
  • EPS - provides expert support monitoring of the fuel cells, cryo system, and electrical bus system


Extravehicular Activity Officer (EVA)

Responsible for all spacesuit and spacewalking-related tasks, equipment and plans when the EVA takes place from the shuttle.

Flight Activities Officer (FAO)

Plans and supports crew activities, checklists, procedures, schedules, attitude maneuvers and timelines.

MPSR Positions -

Attitude and Pointing Officer (Pointing) – Generates and maintains the Attitude Timeline, Monitors the executions of all attitude maneuvers, provides attitude maneuver inputs for the crew, generates star pairs and attitudes for IMU aligns

Message and Timeline Support (MATS) – Creates messages based on MCC inputs, Creates the Execute Package, Monitors crew activities and asses impacts to the Timeline

Orbital Communications Officer (OCA) – Transfers electronic messages to the crew, Syncs the crews E-Mail, Uplinks and downlinks files for the crew

Timeline – Generates the pre-flight timelines for the Flight Plan, Monitors in-flight crew activities, coordinates activities with other flight controllers

Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO or FIDO)

Responsible for the flight path of the space shuttle, both atmospheric and orbital. FDO monitors vehicle performance during the powered flight phase and assesses abort modes, calculates orbital maneuvers and resulting trajectories, and monitors vehicle flight profile and energy levels during re-entry.

MPSR positions
  • Abort Support (ascent only) - provides expert support during the powered flight portion of an RTLS or TAL
  • ARD Support (ascent only) - maintains the Abort Region Determinator processor which is used to predict trajectory capabilities during powered flight
  • Ascent Support team (ascent only) - monitor the winds and weather at the launch site, help compute day-of-launch updates
  • Dynamics - maintains the inputs to the Mission Operation Computer for all processors
  • Entry Console - provides expert support for entry, approach, and landing
  • Entry Support team (ascent and entry) - monitor the winds and weather at the various potential landing sites, prepare trajectory adjustments
  • Landing Support Officer (LSO) team - maintain the airspace at any landing site, dispatch Search and Rescue teams if needed, act as first liaison in case of a landing outside the US
  • Nav Support team - responsible for maintaining the on-board navigation (telemetry) and the ground navigation (tracking)
  • Profile Support (rendezvous only) - assists the FDO with rendezvous profile evaluation and determination
  • Range Safety team (ascent only) - track the falling External Tank and Solid Rocket Boosters
  • Targeting (ascent only) - provides expert support for Abort to Orbit (ATO) or Abort Once Around (AOA) trajectories
  • Track - coordinates tracking site data flow and data requests
  • Weather - a member of the Spaceflight Meteorology Group who provides worldwide weather data


External links

Ground Controller (GC)

Directs maintenance and operation activities affecting Mission Control hardware, software and support facilities; coordinates space flight tracking and data network, and Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system with Goddard Space Flight Centermarker.

Guidance, Navigation, and Controls Systems Engineer (GNC)

Monitors all shuttle guidance, navigation and control systems.

MPSR positions:
GNC Support: Provides support to the Orbit GNC officer during the orbit phase of flight.


Control: Provides support to the Ascent/Entry GNC officer during those phases of flight.


Sensors: Provides support to the Ascent/Entry GNC officer during those phases of flight.


Instrumentation and Communications Officer (INCO)

Responsible for all data, voice and video communications systems, including monitoring the configuration of in-flight communications and instrumentation systems. Duties also included monitoring the telemetry link between the vehicle and the ground, and overseeing the uplink command and control processes. This position is a direct evolution of the Integrated Communications Officer from the Apollo program.

Mechanical, Maintenance, Arm, and Crew Systems (MMACS)

Responsible for space shuttle structural and mechanical systems, monitoring auxiliary power units and hydraulic systems, managing payload bay door, external tank umbilical door, vent door, radiator deploy/stow, Ku-band antenna deploy/stow, and payload retention latch operations, landing gear/deceleration systems (landing gear deploy, tires, brakes/antiskid, and drag chute deploy), and monitoring the orbiter docking system. MMACS also follows use of onboard crew hardware and in-flight equipment maintenance. This represents another portion of the job formerly done by EECOM, with additional responsibilities added by the specific requirements of space shuttle operations. The MMACS officer serves as the point of contact for PDRS, Booster, and EVA during periods in a mission when these positions do not require constant staffing.

MPSR positions
  • MECH - provides expert support monitoring of mechanical, hydraulic, and landing gear systems
  • MECH 2 - provides extra support during the dynamic ascent and entry phases of flight
  • IFM - In-Flight Maintenance support
  • Crew Systems/Escape - responsible for operations of onboard crew hardware and the crew's Launch and Entry Suits
  • Photo/TV - responsible for the "loose" camera operation and maintenance, such as still cameras and camcorders, and the integration of video into and out of the orbiter's TV monitors


Payload Deployment and Retrieval System (PDRS)

Responsible for space shuttle remote manipulator system, also known as the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) or "robot arm".

Propulsion Engineer (PROP)

Manages the reaction control thrusters and orbital maneuvering engines during all phases of flight, monitors fuel usage and propellant tank status, and calculates optimal sequences for thruster firings.

Rendezvous (RNDZ)

Responsible for activities such as trajectory operations related to the rendezvous and docking/capture with another spacecraft, including Mir, the ISS, and satellites such as the Hubble Space Telescope.

Trajectory Officer (TRAJ)

Assists the FDO during time-critical operations, responsible for maintaining the various processors that help determine the shuttle's current and potential trajectories. A FDO is certified as a TRAJ first. Shares the FCR with FDO.

ISS flight control positions

The International Space Station flight control positions used by NASA in Houston are different than those used by previous NASA programs. This is due primarily to reduce confusion from having the same name used in two different rooms during the same operations, such as when the space shuttle is conducting mated operations with the space station. There are also differences in the control positions because of the different nature in the way the space station operates compared to the space shuttle. The following is a list of those flight controllers located in Mission Control Center - Houston. There are several other control centers which house dozens of other flight controllers that support the vastly complex vehicle.

Assembly and Checkout Officer (ACO)

Responsible for integration of assembly and activation tasks for all ISS systems and elements and coordinating with station and shuttle flight controllers on the execution of these operations.

Attitude Determination and Control Officer (ADCO)

Works in partnership with Russian controllers to determine and manage the station’s orientation, controlled by the onboard Motion Control Systems. This position also plans and calculates future orientations and maneuvers for the station and is responsible for docking the ISS with other vehicles.

MPSR positions
  • HawkI - Pronounced (Hawk-eye) - provides expert support monitoring of all US GNC systems, leaving the ADCO to coordinate with other flight controllers and MCC-M. Hawki is actually a strung-together set of common engineering abbreviations for quantities that affect or reflect ISS attitude, primarily chosen because they fit well enough to make a name:
    • H - Momentum. The ISS attitude control algorithm uses momentum exchange through each orbit to minimize propellant usage.
    • a - attitude.
    • ω - angular velocity.
    • k - kinetic energy.
    • I - moment of inertia.


Communication and Tracking Officer (CATO)

Responsible for management and operations of the U.S. communication systems, including audio, video, telemetry and commanding systems.

Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS)

Responsible for the assembly and operation of systems related to atmosphere control and supply, atmosphere revitalization, cabin air temperature and humidity control, circulation, fire detection and suppression, water collection and processing and crew hygiene equipment, among other areas.

Extravehicular Activity Officer (EVA)

Responsible for all spacesuit and spacewalking-related tasks, equipment and plans when the EVA takes place from the ISS.

Onboard, Data, Interfaces and Networks (ODIN)

Responsible for the U.S. Command and Data Handling System, including hardware, software, networks, and interfaces with International Partner avionics systems.

Operations Planner (OPSPLAN)

Leads the coordination, development and maintenance of the station's short-term plan, including crew and ground activities. The plan includes the production and uplink of the onboard station plan and the coordination and maintenance of the onboard inventory and stowage listings.

MPSR Positions:

Real Time Planning Engineer (RPE)

Real Time Planning Engineer Support (RPE-Support)

Orbital Communications Adapter Officer (OCA)

Onboard Data File and Procedures Officer (ODF)

Operations Support Officer (OSO)

Charged with those logistics support functions that address on-orbit maintenance, support data and documentation, logistics information systems, maintenance data collection and maintenance analysis. The OSO is also responsible for mechanical systems -- such as those used to attach new modules or truss sections to the vehicle during assembly.

Power, Heating, Articulation, Lighting Control Officer (PHALCON)

Manages the power generation, storage, and power distribution capabilities.

Remote Interface Officer (RIO)

Formerly known as the Russian Interface Officer. Responsible for integrating operations between MCC-Houston (MCC-H) and the other International Partner (IP) Control Centers. RIO is a FCR-1 position in MCC-Houston and works closely in conjunction with the Houston Support Group (HSG) teams located at the IP Control Centers:
  • HSG-Moscow (HSG-M): Team of NASA Flight Controllers working with Russian Flight Controllers at MCC-Moscow (MCC-M). Responsible for integrating operations between MCC-H and MCC-M. HSG-M also has taken over operations of the US segment of ISS during Hurricanes Lili and Rita.
  • HSG-Columbus (HSG-C): Small team of NASA Flight Controllers that were responsible for integrating MCC-H and Columbus Control Center (COL-CC) operations at Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich, Germany. Following completion of Columbus commissioning in August 2008, this team discontinued operations.
  • HSG-ATV (HSG-A): Small team of NASA Flight Controllers responsible for integrating MCC-H and Autonomous Transfer Vehicle (ATV) operations at ATV-CC near Toulouse, France.
  • HSG-Japan (HSG-J): Small team of NASA Flight Controllers responsible for integrating MCC-H and Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) and H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) operations at the Space Station Integration and Promotions Center (SSIPC) at Tsukuba, Japan near Tokyo.


Robotics Operations Systems Officer (ROBO)

Responsible for the operations of the Canadian Mobile Servicing System, which includes a mobile base system, station robotic arm, station robotic hand or special purpose dexterous manipulator. (Call sign: ROBO) represents a joint Canadian Space Agency-NASA team of specialists to plan and execute robotic operations.

Thermal Operations and Resources (THOR)

Responsible for the assembly and operation of multiple station subsystems which collect, distribute, and reject waste heat from critical equipment and payloads.

Trajectory Operations Officer (TOPO)

Responsible for the station trajectory. The TOPO works in partnership with Russian controllers, ADCO, and the U.S. Space Command to maintain data regarding the station's orbital position. TOPO plans all station orbital maneuvers.

Visiting Vehicle Officer (VVO)

A specialist position, the VVO is the liaison between the ISS and "visiting vehicles" such as Progress or Soyuz.

Transoceanic Abort Landing Communicator (TALCOM)

Should an emergency occur, such as loss of one of more main engine, during a Space Shuttle launch, requiring the shuttle to land at one of the contingency landing site in Africa, Europe or the Middle East, TALCOM would assume the role of CAPCOM providing communications with astronauts aboard the crippled orbiter. Like CAPCOM, the TALCOM role is filled by an astronaut. Three astronauts are deployed to the alternate landing sites in Zaragoza Air Basemarker and Moron Air Basemarker in Spain, and Istres Air Basemarker in France. These astronauts fly aboard weather reconnaissance aircraft to provide support at the selected landing site.

See also

Space Centers and Mission Control Centers



Current and former NASA space flight programs



Former NASA Flight Controllers



References





External links




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