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America's Nerve Center for Mission Operations

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By the 1990s the MCC was becoming outdated. Technology had moved on from the 1960s technology that was supporting the center, but the MCC continued its work until a state-of-the-art center replaced it. The new MCC became operational in July 1995. That original MCC is now a national monument.

The new Mission Control Center during STS-70
Image above: An overall view from the rear shows activity in the new Mission Control Center, opened for operation and dedicated during the STS-70 space shuttle mission. Credit: NASA + View Image

Mission operations have matured significantly over the years. Mercury had begun with a fairly simplistic aircraft flight operations approach. The process matured during the Gemini operations when a systems handbook and direct interface between flight control teams and the crew provided real-time ground-to-air interactions. During Apollo, the operations teams worked together on all issues involving flight systems, flight design, science and human operations.

The shuttle era brought radical changes. Shuttle flights had greater and more diversified capabilities and more participants in terms of federal agencies, institutions and even foreign nations. Shuttle design and construction involved close support from the mission operations team. The shuttle was built with the understanding that good flight operations required something of a symbiotic relationship between the human occupants and the machine.

The huge, 363-foot-tall Apollo 11 space vehicle is launchedImage at left: The huge, 363-foot-tall Apollo 11 space vehicle is launched from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. (EDT), July 16, 1969. Credit: NASA + View Image

Fewer operators worked the MCC at JSC than in the days of the Apollo lunar missions, but shuttle flight operations required a networking of the support team composed of the flight control team and the multipurpose support rooms with the payload operations control centers located at JSC or elsewhere, including Goddard. Shuttle flight control became much more streamlined than during Apollo flights and depended on advanced information systems and computer programs. The shuttle required all new computer software--adjusted and reconfigured for each mission. Mission planning for early shuttle missions began three or four years in advance.

Today, MCC activities take place in one of two Flight Control Rooms (FCRs or "Fickers"), the White FCR (for shuttle operations) and the Blue FCR (for station operations). Here flight controllers, in performing their command/control and monitoring functions, get information from console computer displays or projected displays and coordinate with the crews. FCRs use a generic platform that can support all U.S. flight activities. FCRs also support simulations-mission dry runs in which specific tasks may be rehearsed or potential problems and solutions may be addressed.

With the launch of Zarya, the first International Space Station component, in November 1998, station flight controllers and engineering support teams in Houston and Moscow began operations. In the Blue FCR, since the launch of Zarya, to this day and for many years to come, ISS flight controllers conduct continuous joint ISS operations in conjunction with their counterparts in the Russian Flight Control Room in Korolev, Russia, a Moscow suburb.

The ISS presented new challenges. It is a multinational program with partners from around the globe. Many of these partners participate in the planning and execution of real-time operations. Thus people in the Mission Control Center must interface with their counterparts located in control centers around the world. The Spaceflight Control Center in Korolev is where the Russian flight controllers support operations of the Russian elements of the space station.

"Because many of the key ISS functions, including attitude control and life support, are provided by the Russian segment, timely interaction between the control centers in Houston and Moscow is very important to ISS operations. Our ability to interact and communicate with our Russian colleagues is critical to safe and successful ISS operations," said Mark Kirasich, a NASA space station flight director.

Page 1: JSC Celebrates 40 Years of Human Space Flight
Page 2: JSC Origins
Page 3: JSC Origins
Page 4: JSC Origins
Page 5: Engineering the Future
Page 6: Home of the Nation's Astronaut Corps
Page 7: America's Nerve Center for Mission Operations
Page 8: America's Nerve Center for Mission Operations
Page 9: America's Nerve Center for Mission Operations
Page 10: The Triumph of Apollo
Page 11: The Triumph of Apollo
Page 12: The Triumph of Apollo
Page 13: America's First Space Station
Page 14: Expanding the Center's Role
Page 15: The Last Apollo
Page 16: Space Shuttle
Page 17: Space Shuttle
Page 18: International Space Station
Page 19: International Space Station
Page 20: The Next 40 Years