Note: We'd like to thank the crew of STS-86 for allowing us to copy some of the modules found on this page.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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...
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.
There's nothing like seeing, and touching, the real thing. When the STS-90 crew wants to review our payload, we head to the O&C building at Kennedy Space Center. It's there that technicians and engineers prepare Spacelab modules and other payloads for flight. Putting all the pieces of a Spacelab together takes about 6 months, and during that time we visit to review and test some of our procedures. After months of training in simulators, it's exciting to visit our workplace in space. We learned quickly: Never, ever, call a flight module "the mockup." But after training on simulators for more than a year, some habits die hard....