Acquisition of Signal

Our first guest blogger is very special indeed. He was one of 500 applicants and one of 10 to win a place at NASA, scottishspaceschool in conjunction with the University of Strathclyde. His Mum Audrey has worked with Training Matters for over 10 years and our mission statement “Be the Best you can Be” is in her DNA. Alastair Stewart has thrown himself wholeheartedly into this opportunity and we are all very proud of him. Mission accomplished

Day 3 Today was the day that our real space journey started. We visited and fell in love with the Johnson Space Centre. We were almost immediately taken on the level 9 tour, an exciting almost all access day long geek extravaganza. We drove from building to building soaking up the rich history of the place. Firstly the rocket garden where a fully restored Saturn V rocket dominated a vast hangar, a record of all Apollo missions lined one wall and our tour guides showed us all the pivotal moments in America’s race to the moon.

We moved on from there to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, a huge pool, the world’s largest in fact, over 22,000,000 litres of water heated to a toasty 27 degrees. We saw it from a wide viewing gantry which looked out over the pool, it looked across to their control centre, down through the clear water to a scale mock up of the ISS. Two astronauts, an American and an Italian were running tests along it’s exterior all day long and we later shared a meal with them in town. From the NBL we went to the Morpheus project where an Elvis like employee presented his entirely unmanned and automated landing system for future missions to the moon. The tour took us to most of the buildings on the facility and we all had a great time.

Maybe our best moment of our entire trip was still to come though as we simply climbed the stairs in what looked like an old high school, up a brightly lit set of steps to a viewing gallery that looked out over a large room. At the front of the room were 3 large screen displays, the centre of which showed a Sin wave like motion and a bleeping icon of the ISS as it moved in orbit, the other two showed fault lists, vitals, a commentary, time of acquisition of signal and a live feed from the ISS solar array. The walls of the room were lined with mission patches, starting from Apollo 7, all of which were launched from that room. Desks at the front read ISO and OSO, Operations Commander, Communications, Thor, ADCO and moved back in order of importance until finally they reached Flight Director. The room of course was modern day Mission Control. We sat as part of the tour and witnessed the ISS pass over the coast of California to Florida peninsula in a matter of minutes. The ISS in fact moves so fast that it travels through 8 sunsets and sunrises each day.

Directly above this room lay original Mission Control, preserved forever, a reminder of the moon landings, the greatest ever failure and of a nation in rapid progression. The older mission control was far larger, to allow for the computer consoles, but sent goosebumps up my neck when the guide showed us the speaker where the confirmation of lunar contact was received from. We all could’ve spent a very long time in that place, there are so many stories to be told but it was some of my favourite few hours of my entire life. We then moved to a full scale mock up of the shuttle and finished at the Orion project.

To see NASA in the past, present and future was amazing, to see it so closely was a privilege and to stand amongst history and those who work so relentlessly but enthusiastically was inspirational. Mission Control in particular had us all breathless with excitement.

by Alastair Stewart

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