Marathon simulation readies Shuttle team for return to space

If the Space Shuttle Mission Management Team (MMT) was a football team, its members just finished their toughest scrimmage yet. A strenuous, eight-day simulation at Johnson Space Center recently put the team through its paces. Multiple challenges and conflicting data were handed to the team — all with the game clock ticking.

“There’s a quote from a football coach that says, ‘I want game day to be the easiest day of the week,'” said MMT member Chuck Shaw, technical assistant to the deputy Shuttle Program manager. “That’s the idea behind a sim: you want to have all the teams, whether they’re management, technical or operations, able to work with each other under a stressful situation.”

The simulation was designed to be especially demanding to ensure that the MMT is ready for whatever real challenges come its way during the STS-114 Return to Flight mission.

“There were timeline pressures, conflicting info coming in — we had to sort out those conflicting mission priorities,” he said. “It’s one thing to do it around the board table; it’s another to do it with the mission clock running.”

The MMT keeps management engaged in the mission and, if necessary, accepts additional risks during the flight, Shaw said. The group is comprised of managers from all elements of the Shuttle program throughout the agency and includes participation from NASA research centers and contractors nationwide.

The purpose of this simulation was for the MMT to rehearse the entire “debris process” during a mission — monitoring the orbiter during launch, planning in-flight vehicle inspections, analyzing inspection imagery and deciding on a course of action. While each of these pieces has been rehearsed individually, the simulation was an opportunity for the entire process to be melded together and rehearsed.

While the MMT plays a major role in the debris process, the other Shuttle teams — including flight controllers, behind-the-scenes experts and the crew — are just as important. However, the main objective for this sim was to give the MMT a solid run-through.

“The last sim was a crew-training exercise,” said Simulation Supervisor Darrel McGregor. “This one was really an MMT sim that the STS-114 team supported.” McGregor emphasized that the crew and flight control teams still benefit tremendously from the training.

This simulation was an eight-day, multi-center marathon involving teams at JSC, Kennedy Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and NASA Headquarters. The exercise began two days before the simulated launch and ran through Flight Day 6. JSC coordinated with KSC from prelaunch through ascent.

Challenges faced by the KSC team included a problem with a Solid Rocket Booster hydraulic power unit valve, and an air-conditioning failure that temporarily shut down one short-range camera site along the east side of the launch pad. But “the problems are all minor in nature,” said KSC Public Information Officer George Diller during countdown commentary.

KSC was also involved in rehearsing the STS-300 rescue mission contingency. Personnel at MSFC and Headquarters were involved when standard flight rules needed to be waived, McGregor said.

During the rest of the sim, the MMT practiced supervising the inspection, analysis and repair of debris damage to the orbiter.

“Of the damage sites, we had to decide which ones had to be repaired, and then which technique to use,” Shaw said. “There are a whole lot of new processes in place to come to grips with all that data and boil it down to something usable.”

Shaw said that the simulation was not only challenging, but realistically so.

“The exercise was really intense and really productive,” he said. “This was one of the best orchestrated and most realistic sims that I’ve seen, in terms of how the situations were handled. This is serious business and everybody’s treating it that way.”

“It took a lot of hard work by a lot of people to make it this realistic,” Shaw said. Despite all the hard work, Shaw — a former flight director and simulation supervisor — said he loves being a part of human spaceflight.

“It gets in your blood,” he said. “What a great thing when you can get paid to do something you love. And the best part is, all of these people who worked around the clock for eight days — every one of them feels that way.”


The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.