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.
One of them was Death Valley National Monument, California. In April 1992, Linda and I visited Death Valley with the JPL SIR-C (Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C…the third and most advanced version to fly) team to learn about alluvial fans, dune fields, sand sheets, and wind/sand interactions.
Death Valley was not too uncomfortable in April, but it helped that our group stayed overnight at Furnace Creek Inn, sitting on a hot spring above the valley floor. While at Death Valley, we visited dune fields, flash-flood-carved canyons, volcanic craters, salt flats, and sites instrumented so the Radar Lab’s orbital data could be compared with ground truth gathered by the science team.
We had another Earth science investigation at Mammoth Mountain, California, where at about 11,000 feet a hydrology team ran a snow lab, aimed at measuring the water content of snow pack using space-based radar. The snow pack water content is a vitally important measurement for states like California, which rely on spring snowmelt to fill reservoirs supplying farmers and urban residents with water. Linda and I, with our JPL science team, descended beneath the snow cover to visit the lab and see theory put into practice.
Another example of our Earth science training was when 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.
The Bay of Naples volcanic field was one of our science sites for volcanology, and Italian scientists had instrumented Solfatara to help Space Radar Lab 1 study the Phlegraean Fields region. This cluster of volcanic craters within the Bay of Naples caldera has been violently active within the past 1000 years, and along with Vesuvius, presents one of the greatest threats to the Napolitan population. Linda Godwin is at upper right in the photo, heading toward another sulfur vent.
On the German leg of our trip, Linda and I took a flight over the instrumented radar test range at Oberpfaffenhofen, north of Munich. This site would be used during SRL-1 for radar calibration, beam width and polarization measurements, and comparison with airborne radar images. We would later take so many radar images of Oberpfaffenhofen that our crew termed it “Over-Flown-Too-Often.”
Not that Linda and I hogged all the good field trips (although we did take the majority, as science reps on the mission). Our entire crew sans Chili headed for the geological wonderland around Flagstaff, Arizona in May 1993. The U.S. Geological Survey staff there, involved in several SRL-1 radar investigations, guided us through volcanic fields, desert terrain, sand dunes, and dry canyons. The USGS scientists and our JPL science team together provided an excellent geological context for many similar landforms we would observe around the globe.
Note the cinder cone at upper right, serving as our backdrop on this day in the field.
Contrasting with the desert terrain around Flagstaff was our supersite near Chickasha, Oklahoma, outside Oklahoma City. This largely flat agricultural region was the focus of an intensive program of soil moisture investigations, with the goal of using space- or airborne radar to extract soil moisture measurements, and convey them to the area farmers. This information would save money by only applying irrigation when and where necessary. During our visit, Linda and I flew on a NASA C-130 transport equipped with a microwave soil moisture sensor. Good, solid, B-52-like low level flying: I liked it!
One of the emergencies we practiced for our STS-59 mission was a gliding bailout scenario, exiting the orbiter if our ship could not make it back to a runway. In that dire case, we would bail out from the orbiter, descend by parachute, then stay alive while awaiting an ocean pickup. Just before Christmas in 1993, the crew reported to the WETF in Bldg. 29 for a refresher on water survival training. We practiced with most of our survival gear on the deck surrounding the 25-foot-deep pool, then “graduated” by dropping from a hoist into the water, simulating a parachute descent into the ocean. We then scrambled into our raft, baled out the water, and closed the spray shield to ride out the swells while we waited for a helicopter rescue (which, in the WETF, never showed).
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.
To help bring all of our training into context, Sid planned a camping trip for the crew at nearby Brazos Bend State Park, TX. We camped out from Thursday morning until Saturday evening, with Thursday and Friday devoted to discussing our flight plan and our various responsibilities on the mission. Sleeping in tents and sleeping bags was a foretaste of the “space camp out” we would all soon undertake. It was our first chance to see each other in the morning, unshowered and grubby from a night’s sleep in the great outdoors. After cleaning up, we launched into mission planning, photography training, and long conversations about how best to get our work done during the intense operations planned for SRL-1. A nice surprise was that each of us took on responsibility for one meal, and so shared everyone’s favorite foods and culinary skills. I remember Jay made a great seafood paella. On Saturday our families came out for an entire day visiting us, sharing a big crew dinner before we all headed home. The campout was a real team-builder.
Linda Godwin and I were designated as the EVA (spacewalk) repair crew for Endeavour on STS-59. We studied our spacesuit systems, emergency procedures for dealing with suit failures, and the various mechanical repair tasks we might have to undertake to fix Endeavour in orbit. Some examples of these repairs included winching closed the payload bay doors, installing mechanical latches to clamp the doors to the fuselage or knit the centerline edges of the doors together, and cutting jammed pushrods that might prevent a door from motoring closed. We practiced in four underwater sessions lasting 4 to 6 hours each, descending into the blue depths of the Weightless Environment Training Facility in our old centrifuge building, Building 29.
Closer to launch, in early 1994, our entire crew practiced orbiter bailout and ground egress procedures in JSC’s Building 9, using the Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT). The FFT was a mockup orbiter fuselage (no wings) with an accurate physical representation of the crew cabin, though only a few of the systems actually worked. It was not a simulator, but instead a trainer for emergency procedures, galley operations, photo and TV training, stowage operations (where everything was packed), and so on.
Let’s say the orbiter ran off the runway on landing and we had to get out quickly. We used ropes: the Sky Genie rope slide attached to our suit’s parachute harness and enabled us to get out the side hatch and slither to the ground.
That was only about 10 feet. But if the side hatch was jammed shut, or fire made it unwise to get out on that side, we could jettison the top left window in the cabin ceiling and go all the way over to the starboard side for our egress path.
This was fun stuff, but also a little intimidating. The top of the orbiter is a good 25 feet in the air, and sliding off the side in a heavy launch and entry suit on a single rope and carabiner took some trust in our trainers and suit technicians. None of us fell too far.
The final act was using the escape slide from the orbiter hatch. Again, off the runway and a need to get out of the cabin in a hurry, we could deploy the escape slide for a quick exit. Here we are practicing using the Cockpit Configuration Trainer, or CCT, which is just the nose of the orbiter. The CCT could be tilted into the vertical for launch strap-in and launch pad egress training. I think the CCT is now at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH.
To get out, one opened the hatch and then triggered the airline-style escape slide using a T-handle just inside the hatch. Now the slide is out, and we just have to skid down its surface.
Training for one of her missions, Rhea Seddon caught an ankle at the bottom and broke it. She was able to heal in time for launch, but it sure put some of her training dates in doubt. Our techs were very careful to help us land squarely on both feet.
Imagine the adrenaline pumping as you returned from space and then had to escape the cabin and hustle away from a potentially explosive or toxic propellant release. It would be a race between adrenaline and free-fall deconditioning. I like to think we’d remember how to run–or at least hobble–if the situation demanded it.
The final exercise was clipping my harness onto the escape pole for a high-altitude bailout from the orbiter. Below, we practice the procedures to clip into the pole and then roll out of the hatch. Later, in the Weightless Environment Training Facility, we would roll out the hatch, down the pole, and drop ten feet into the water — leaving out the static-line parachute opening and the long descent down to the ocean. Here, we just fall off the pole and drop 6 inches onto the mat.
As launch day approached, we spent more time in the mission simulators: the motion base for ascent and entry training, the fixed base in building 5 for orbit operations, and the GNS (guidance and navigation simulator) in building 37, also for orbit operations. I can’t tell which one we’re in in the photo below, but I suspect it’s the Fixed Base in Building 5.
The camera at upper right is the Linhof mapping camera, with its 4×5-inch negative. The Linhof lived on that window bracket so we could tilt it to aim at our ground target. On the switch panel behind me are orbit maps and a copy of the science timeline that governed all our observations in the 24/7 SRL operations. The IBM Thinkpad laptop at left had a major improvement over shuttle laptops–a color display.
We continued to take classes on all the skills needed for any emergency we might encounter in orbit. Two of us were trained as emergency medical technicians for physical problems we might encounter. Here, veteran NASA instructor Mike Fox teaches me how to refine my cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills. Mike’s experience in physiology and diving went back to the Apollo program–we miss you, Mike.
Eventually, the training flow narrows and all classes point directly toward launch day. At the end of February 1994, our crew flew to Kennedy Space Center and spent two days in an intensive inspection and familiarization tour of Endeavour in the Orbiter Processing Facility. This was the Crew Equipment Interface Test (CEIT), one of the few chances we would have to get inside the orbiter, check out all its nooks and crannies, and familiarize ourselves with our future home in space.
Our final training session at the Cape was in late March, 1994, when our crew participated in our countdown dress rehearsal, the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test. See my photo album for that exercise: STS-59 Endeavour Countdown Rehearsal: Mar. 23-24, 1994
Finally, after a week in quarantine, it was time to go. Here is our spaceship the night before our April 8 launch attempt. Our families met us to take a look at Endeavour bathed in xenon searchlights. Night viewing is a spectacular sight, and an emotional experience for crew and families.