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  STS-124: Sharing 'space' with the crew

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Author Topic:   STS-124: Sharing 'space' with the crew
Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 07-13-2008 12:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
On Thursday, July 10, the crew of STS-124 delivered a post-flight presentation at Space Center Houston. Afterward, as they sat in the museum's main gallery and signed autographs, I had a chance to catch up with the astronauts and in particular, the four whom I had joined a few weeks before their mission for an experience I will never forget.

The view from the fifth seat...

On the morning of May 2, 2008, I was invited by the commander of STS-124, Mark Kelly, to observe as he and his flight deck crew trained on the space shuttle motion base simulator at Johnson Space Center. Strapped into what normally would be the instructor's chair, I watched as Kelly, pilot Ken "Hock" Ham, flight engineer Ron Garan and mission specialist Karen Nyberg 'flew' four launches and one landing during their final pressure-suited, integrated sim before their real launch on May 31.

With Mission Control staffed as it would be during the flight, Kelly and his crew were put to the test as the simulator supervisor ("sim sup") threw anomalies, including a cabin pressure leak. During the four flight profiles that morning, the four astronauts and flight controllers executed several aborts, including an abort to orbit, a transatlantic abort and a return to launch site abort that brought shuttle Discovery to a landing at MCAS Cherry Point in North Carolina.

The simulator sits atop a hydraulic platform giving the astronauts the opportunity to train while becoming familiar with the approximate environments they'll encounter on the real shuttle, such as lying on one's back before and during the launch to the vibrations generated by the main engines and solid rocket boosters during ascent.

My seat was located just behind and to the slight left of Kelly, and to the left of Garan, as the photos illustrate. (In the real orbiter, my seat would have been positioned over an interdeck opening that allows access between the flight- and mid-decks.)

According to NASA public affairs, I was the first non-astronaut or trainer to ride-along with a shuttle crew so close to their launch and the first to do so during an integrated, suited sim. Not only did the experience leave me with a new understanding of what goes on within the orbiter during a launch, but left me with a greater appreciation of the teamwork that exists between the astronauts and flight controllers.

As I told Garan on his return to Houston, when they finally did launch for real, I felt as though I was sitting beside him again as I listened to the calls between Discovery and Mission Control.

To capture that day for posterity, I put together a custom-printed photo album. Upon seeing it on Thursday, Kelly commented to his crewmates that they were the first with a book dedicated to their ascent sim.

It's a book, and more importantly, a day, I will forever treasure.

Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 07-13-2008 12:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As an addendum to the story, I need to thank Matt Ceniceros and Suzette Noel with FedEx, without whom the album would have never arrived in time to share with the crew.

Although Apple Inc. did an amazing job with the quality of the book, when it came time to ship, their customer service left something to be desired. Responding (out of the blue) to a post I made to Twitter, Matt volunteered to help, and with Suzette my book was located and arrived the next morning in ample time for the evening presentation.

I had read about companies monitoring Twitter to offer customer service, but didn't really believe it until now... thus, a well-deserved 'tip of the space helmet' to FedEx.

Jay Chladek
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From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 07-13-2008 12:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wow, short of actually flying on a shuttle, that has to be the greatest honorary experience an astronaut has ever bestowed on a civilian Robert. And you were the lucky one to experience it! Don't you wish Space Camp was as cool when we were kids (even though it was already pretty cool)?

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
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posted 07-13-2008 12:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
Don't you wish Space Camp was as cool when we were kids (even though it was already pretty cool)?
It's funny you should mention Space Camp, because there were a few times that day when it came to mind. For example, I knew what to expect when it was time to strap into the seat, as I had done that before in Huntsville.

Of course, NASA's motion base simulator is orders of magnitude more complex than at Space Camp, so the similarities ended pretty much there, but you could say that Space Camp served as my simulation for the future day I would ride with the crew!

MCroft04
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From: Smithfield, Me, USA
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posted 07-13-2008 02:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert, I assume that you were hooked up to intercom. In addition to the appreciation for teamwork, did you learn anything new about how the shuttle operates? Did the crew successfully negotiate all the problems they were given? I have a friend who was allowed to take a ride in the simulator, but not with a real crew. Excepting myself, I can't think of anyone I'd rather see enjoy this opportunity. Way to go!

KSCartist
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posted 07-13-2008 05:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KSCartist   Click Here to Email KSCartist     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wonderful experience Robert and a great way to remember it. Did you give copies to the crew or was only one book created?

Will you make it to the right seat on your next mission?

Tim

Robert Pearlman
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posted 07-13-2008 08:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by MCroft04:
Robert, I assume that you were hooked up to intercom. In addition to the appreciation for teamwork, did you learn anything new about how the shuttle operates?
I was provided a headset to wear (you can see the microphone and its cable in the first photo above), so I could hear the crew, the sim sup and the capcom.

Where I think I gained the greatest new understanding was in watching the action in the orbiter correspond with the now familiar ascent milestones. I had seen the videos taken in the cabin during launch and landing, but those miss something intangible; they may record but don't capture the palpable feeling generated by the crew in the cabin.

And while I had a wall of timers in front of me, it seemed as though the eight minutes to orbit were greatly accelerated (though the sim ran in real time). When Ham commented after the mission how he stole glances at the earth receding below them, I can now imagine how fleeting those moments must have been.

The crew successfully completed all four flight profiles, though only the last one was run through landing. The cabin leak was the most interesting, I think, as it really illustrated the decision making process (e.g. could they find and patch it in time or should they abort; and at what point do they lower their visors and rely on their suit's oxygen or continue breathing the cabin's depleting supply).

quote:
Originally posted by KSCartist:
Did you give copies to the crew or was only one book created?
The copy I showed them on Thursday could be considered the galley; I'm making some minor tweaks to the layout and photo choices, and then will be giving each their own.
quote:
Will you make it to the right seat on your next mission?
NASA has, in the past, offered an opportunity to the press to assume the role of pilot with either a trainer or astronaut as commander. I would of course, jump at the chance but if I had to choose between the two -- what I did in May or having the chance to 'fly' the simulator myself, I would most definitely choose the earlier.

Tom
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posted 07-13-2008 09:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tom   Click Here to Email Tom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What a great honor, Robert! I can only imagine what that experience felt like.

Looking forward to seeing Ron Garan Tuesday evening when he comes to Garden City.

Mr Meek
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From: Chattanooga, TN
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posted 07-13-2008 12:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Mr Meek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Further proof that you have the best job in the world...at least, next to those in the other 4 seats. Any chance you'll put the rest of the pictures up on cS?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 07-13-2008 02:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Click on photos during the slideshow to view captions.

Tom
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posted 07-13-2008 05:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tom   Click Here to Email Tom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great shots, Robert...thanks for posting them.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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From: Toms River, NJ,USA
Registered: Aug 2000

posted 07-13-2008 08:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If indeed they did an RTLS to North Carolina they were a few hundred miles off course.... (Isn't it more properly called an East Coast Abort?)

Just kidding, of course... neat photos, and neat experience. So when do we see "sort of flown" STS-124 material from your flight for sale, Robert?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 07-13-2008 08:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Hart Sastrowardoyo:
(Isn't it more properly called an East Coast Abort?)
Well, there's a story behind that... you see, before that run started, the sim sup made it clear that regardless of where Discovery ended up, it would be treated once down as if it was back at Kennedy Space Center (presumably so the crew could get in practice with ASP Kay Hire, who entered the simulator after landing, in configuring the orbiter after a nominal landing). So while the approach was MCAS Cherry Point, once on the ground, we were back at the launch site. (If only such transitions were as easy in real life.)

KSCartist
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From: Titusville, FL USA
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posted 07-14-2008 07:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KSCartist   Click Here to Email KSCartist     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great pictures Robert! Thanks for sharing them. I don't know how you kept the serious expression on your face, I would have been grinning from ear to ear.

Tim

Mr Meek
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From: Chattanooga, TN
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posted 07-14-2008 09:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Mr Meek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great shots. I am a little curious (well, very curious) as to how the RTLS abort went. I don't mean the success or failure (I assume success) of the run, but rather the experience of the simulation.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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From: Toms River, NJ,USA
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posted 07-14-2008 12:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just out of curiosity, where did the TAL land? And is there an alternate crew photo with you in it, Robert?

(And personally, I would have been reallll tempted to push a switch and shut off a main engine in midflight, and force a TAL... but knowing how rare sitting in a simulator with the crew is, I'd be scared to even shoot photos, less my flash be distracting to the crew.)

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
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posted 07-14-2008 12:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Mr Meek:
I am a little curious (well, very curious) as to how the RTLS abort went.
It was noticeably dramatic. Not once during the time that we were 'flying' did I notice the crew members treat the sim as anything but the real thing, which was somewhat surprising to me. When, during the RTLS, we were bleeding off speed too quickly such that it initially appeared we wouldn't make the runway, the tension, at least to me, was palpable.

As for the motion of the simulator, I am afraid I was too engrossed in watching the crew and straining against my straps to grab glimpses of the approach as to notice (or at least remember) most of the movement, though I recall the nose pitching down after main gear down touchdown.

quote:
Originally posted by Hart Sastrowardoyo:
Just out of curiosity, where did the TAL land? And is there an alternate crew photo with you in it, Robert?
Hah! I wish I had thought of that! I left the sim while Kay Hire was still helping the crew shutdown the orbiter (so as not to be in the way). I waited around at the bottom of the stairs for the astronauts to exit and thanked them each for having me along, but never thought to ask for a photograph while they were still suited.

As for the TAL abort, I vaguely recall it was Zaragosa, Spain, though the sim ended before landing once the crew had set-up for the approach.

quote:
...but knowing how rare sitting in a simulator with the crew is, I'd be scared to even shoot photos, less my flash be distracting to the crew.)
All the photos I took were without flash and I remained quiet unless spoken to first; the last thing I wanted was to cause a distraction. That said, I did get to flick a couple of switches -- with permission -- resetting them between sim runs.

tegwilym
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posted 07-14-2008 02:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sheesh! Between you and Ben Cooper, you guys are the luckiest space geeks I know!

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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From: Toms River, NJ,USA
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posted 07-14-2008 02:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Now all Robert needs is a "Mach .0025" patch...

MCroft04
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posted 07-14-2008 09:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by tegwilym:
Sheesh! Between you and Ben Cooper, you guys are the luckiest space geeks I know!
Lucky? Perhaps. But I'm sure that you'll agree that Robert has earned every opportunity he gets!

tegwilym
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From: Renton, WA USA
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posted 07-15-2008 05:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by MCroft04:
But I'm sure that you'll agree that Robert has earned every opportunity he gets!
Definitely!

space4u
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From: Cleveland, OH USA
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posted 07-16-2008 12:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for space4u   Click Here to Email space4u     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
TOTALLY AWESOME Robert!!!!! What a great thrill for you and thanks for sharing it with all of collectspace.

--Marcy

NavySpaceFan
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posted 07-18-2008 08:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for NavySpaceFan   Click Here to Email NavySpaceFan     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Rob, you are one lucky guy!!! Great pics!!!

lm5eagle
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posted 07-18-2008 09:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for lm5eagle   Click Here to Email lm5eagle     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert,

There can have been no better choice of individual to receive this great opportunity. One of your finest attributes is the way you share experiences and information with the readers of your forum. We are all beneficiaries. Keep up the great work.

Andy

ejectr
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posted 07-18-2008 01:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ejectr   Click Here to Email ejectr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert...I'll tell you they're going to find you as a stow away yet!

blacklion1
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posted 07-19-2008 09:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for blacklion1   Click Here to Email blacklion1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Rob, I join everyone in saying what great pictures. It must have been a wonderful experience. Have you given any thought to producing more copies of your photo album?

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