Early in 1992 I was assigned to my first space shuttle mission, which would carry the first Space Radar Laboratory payload into orbit. In all I trained over 27 months for this specific mission, and of course another year of basic astronaut training up front. Here I’ll post some training situations experienced by our STS-59 crew. At first we were assigned to shuttle Atlantis, but as the schedule matured, our orbiters were switched and we knew by early 1993 that we would fly on shuttle orbiter Endeavour.
Linda Godwin was the payload commander for SRL-1, and worked for several years with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on early planning for the next round of shuttleborne radar, SIR-C (the NASA/JPL C- and L-band radar instruments). I joined her on the crew manifest in January 1992, and we spent the next couple of years learning more about the Earth science studies planned for the mission. These visits to the far-flung investigators of the SRL science team took Linda, me, and the rest of the crew to several of our “supersites,” where multidisciplinary field teams would obtain ground-truth measurements to compare with the orbital radar results.
So, for example, Linda and I joined members of the Italian science team at the volcanology supersite at Vesuvius on the Bay of Naples. We ascended the slopes of the volcano, visited the Italian observatory on the mountain flanks, toured the active crater called Solfatara, and got a look at the ruined Roman city of Pompeii.
Remarkably, in the 25 years since these visits, Vesuvius has not yet blown its top. But it will soon!
The Phlegraean Fields are the cluster of active and dormant craters and cones on the shores of the Bay of Naples. The region has been more active of late and have threatened an eruption in the latter half of the 2010s. Monitoring this active region is one of the jobs of a permanent, spaceborne radar observatory, which can detect surface inflation and deflation as magma enters or leaves the chamber deep beneath the Bay of Naples.
One of our most familiar training facilities was the fixed base simulator, in Building 5 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The “fixed base” didn’t move, but it had a very realistic and functional flight deck for shuttle orbit training. The downstairs (or middeck) was less high-fidelity, but it still had working switches and circuit breakers, a functional galley, storage lockers, and next door, a working space shuttle toilet (practice makes perfect). In the photo above, Jay and our crew are rehearsing our launch and post-insertion procedures for the critical couple of hours after liftoff. During post-insertion, we got out of our suits and transformed our rocket ship into an orbiting laboratory.
We also had many orbit training sessions in the flight deck of the Guidance and Navigation Simulator training facility (“the GNS”) across the street from Building 5. This simulator had been upgraded to supply good visuals out the simulator windows, and helped handle the heavy load of crew training in simulation sessions for our flight and other crews training in parallel.
We were often given several cameras to train with during these simulator sessions, to build equipment familiarity and practice good in-cabin photography techniques. These snapshots were a result of this training with a Nikon camera body and flash.
Behind Linda is the functioning galley of the space shuttle’s middeck. In front of her seat are the forward storage lockers; the labels read “Menu Food,” as we usually prepared and ate some space food during these sessions. Her parachute is on the seat as we practice post-insertion routines for stowing our suits and parachutes.
Out the door to her left was the shuttle toilet trainer: we weren’t weightless, but other than that the commode worked just like the real one. It even had a “seating simulator” so you could use a TV camera aimed “up the chute” at one’s bottom, giving one the right “feel” for correct body positioning on the commode. We were assured the closed-circuit TV picture could not be broadcast out of the waste control system simulator room.
Our training took us all over the space center to the various shuttle training facilities. The FFT pictured above is now on display in Seattle at its Museum of Flight. Its shuttle crew cabin was fairly accurate (although it was not a simulator; most switches did not work), and we used it to practice stowage of our gear (where stuff goes), photography, TV camera techniques, galley operations, and habitability (how you live in a spaceship).
Ya gotta eat, right? And the same is true in space. In the shot below, Vickie Kloeris, at left rear, and her colleague, dietitian Gloria Mongan, go over menu choices and nutrition advice with (from left) Kevin Chilton, Rich Clifford, and (across table at right) Tom Jones and Linda Godwin. We had already visited the JSC food lab to try nearly everything on NASA’s space food menu in a marathon lunch session. Now we are reviewing our draft menus with Vickie. By the way, Vickie is still running NASA’s space station food operation at Johnson Space Center, ensuring the menu selections (nearly 200 items) continue to expand and get even more appetizing. I think that’s my office desk at center rear, because my USAF Academy diploma is on the wall to the left of the Mars image.
Because of our intensive science photography goals for the mission, we worked with JSC’s Earth Observation specialists to learn our many Earth science objectives and to become familiar with our ground science targets. These sessions amounted, I think, to earning a master’s degree in geography and Earth science.