Space Shuttle Memories – A Dream Realized

July 18, 2011

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The following is a remembrance of the United States Space Program as I have lived it. I will restrain from naming specific people except historic figures and the actual crews of missions I have witnessed or supported. My qualifications for writing this memoir are; a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas, three tours as a Co-operative engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and nine years as an engineer supporting the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs for what eventually became the United Space Alliance (USA) on the Space Transportation System Operations Contract (STSOC). For those who are interested, technical summaries of each Space Shuttle flight can be found at the NASA web site. All NASA manned missions can be viewed in the archive.

My dream of working on the Space program finally came true when I was given the opportunity to participate in the Cooperative Engineering program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This opportunity came as I sat in the Cooperative Engineering Office at the University of Texas. I went to work in the Man Machine Interface Division. I was there just after the launch of the first American woman, Dr. Sally Ride, into space on STS-7.

The Man-Machine Interface Division worked on the human factors considerations of space flight. We used a computer program called Panel Layout and Integrated Design (PLAID). This software package allowed cutting edge depiction of hardware by drawing hidden line removed perspective models. This was black lines on white paper. The worst graphics on computer games today would put that package to shame. We typed in all of the vertices and arc data and previewed the drawings on a Techtronics display, green lines that required a button push to clear the screen when you wanted to draw the next picture. We provided drawings for the astronauts to see what would be in the payload bay and what they could observe. These drawings were used for training and to help managers and customers visualize what was going to happen during the mission. We also supported the Space Station proposals that were presented during the Reagan years.

I primarily worked on STS-8, which at the time was cutting edge because it was the launch of the first African American into space. Today, that seems odd, since we as a culture have moved so far away from physical looks rather than ability defining the opportunities presented. Guion Bluford is one of the nicest, most optimistic and most encouraging people I have ever met. During this time, I met several astronauts as well as people who had been involved in many of the earlier manned flights.

The next mission was STS-9. The primary payload was the Spacelab, a laboratory in the payload bay. Since not the activities would be in the lab, there was little need for training pictures of the payload bay. This is when we really got involved in the Space Station concept effort. We worked on the interior designs of the various modules as well as overall structure. The module layouts were to validate that all of the equipment and personnel would fit and function. The overall structure pictures were for training, what would the astronauts see as they approach the station during assembly. Of course those initial concepts are just a memory of or hint of what is in the final designs that have been assembled. I went back to school and dreamed of making a huge impact on the space program and bragging to my class mates about how cool my Co-op experience had been.

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