NASA Podcasts

NASA EDGE: Orion Sims
› Download Vodcast (426MB)
NASA EDGE: Orion Sims

Lockheed Martin Exploration Development Lab
Interview with Linda Singleton
Orion Low Fidelity Mock-up Demo – Melissa Gordon
Orion Docking Simulator (EDL) Demo – Amber Gell
Interview with Astronaut Lee Morin

Before you build NASA’s newest space exploration vehicle, you have to make sure it will do everything you need. Lockheed Martin and NASA are doing exactly that through a variety of Orion mock-ups and simulators at Lockheed Martin's Exploration Development Lab and NASA Johnson Space Center. Chris interviews Astronaut Lee Morin in NASA’s ROC (Reconfigurable Operational Cockpit) while Jacky docks the Orion with the ISS. Unfortunately, Blair is demoted to a not so new, very low fidelity mock up for his medianaut training.


CHRIS: Welcome to NASA EDGE.

JACKY: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: We’re here in the Exploration Development Lab at Lockheed Martin, with us is Linda Singleton, who is Orion Communications Manager. Tell us about this EDL facility.

LINDA: We’re in the Exploration Development Lab, which is a 10,000 square foot facility located next to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. We do a lot of research and development work here that helps us design new Orion spacecraft but we also do a lot of integration and avionics work to help train our astronauts, crew members and engineers on how we’re going to perform all our test flights in the near future as well as future missions to the space station and onto the moon.

CHRIS: I noticed in this facility we have a number of simulators. What’s the purpose of having multiple simulators?

LINDA: One of our simulators is the Orion docking simulator. Jacky, I think you had some firsthand experience on that.

JACKY: I did. It was great and very challenging.

LINDA: It’s a lot harder than it looks. And it helps our engineers to design the docking mechanisms as well as the procedures that our crew members will use on orbit as they go to the Space Station and onto the moon. Blair got some training in our full scale Orion. It’s called a low fidelity mock-up. That’s where we do crew interface training. We work with the crew members to determine if the seats are located in the right space in order to reach all the controls so they can properly manage the spacecraft.

CHRIS: You are the prime contractor for the Orion vehicle. How important is it in terms of working with NASA and working with your partners as a collective team?

LINDA: Lockheed Martin, as you mentioned, is the prime contractor and we work very closely with NASA. I always say we work “lock step” with NASA. We also have five major partners we work with, Honeywell, USA, Orbital, Aerojet, and Hamilton Sundstrand to design and develop the vehicle. We also 60 subcontractors located in 22 states across the country. It’s a huge program.

CHRIS: I am a little nervous. Jacky, I trust you that you’re going to dock that vehicle. I have all the confidence in the world.

JACKY: Okay.

CHRIS: Everyone knows that. The whole audience knows that because they love you. My concern is the co-host. I’m glad you put him in the low fidelity mock-up as opposed to the high fidelity.

[static w/voices]

BLAIR: Welcome to the real NASA EDGE.

JACKY: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

BLAIR: Notice I said real because it’s not simulated. This is the real show.

CHRIS: What are you talking about simulated?

BLAIR: That was a simulated interview earlier.

CHRIS: How did you get on the set? We were just talking to Linda.

BLAIR: Yeah. What?

JACKY: We just talked to Linda.

CHRIS: What are you doing here?

BLAIR: This is a show about simulations. That was a simulation. Now, this is the real show.

CHRIS: No, Linda is the real deal. You’re a simulation.

BLAIR: She’s no co-host. I’m the co-host.

CHRIS: Co-host is right here. You must be simulated right now.

BLAIR: I feel real.

JACKY: While you figure that out, let’s talk about what we’re going to see today.

CHRIS: Talking to Linda, I’m looking forward to seeing you land that Orion spacecraft with the ISS.

BLAIR: I’ve got tactile…

JACKY: Excuse me, trying to talk. I actually interviewed with Amber. She talked with me about the Orion simulator. It was really exciting, a little challenging but I learned a lot.

BLAIR: That was a simulation.


BLAIR: Much like the interview earlier.

CHRIS: But it was real… I’m assuming it was real.

JACKY: Yeah, absolutely.

BLAIR: I’ll get it worked out. I spent some time in the low fidelity simulator with Melissa. That felt real to me even though it was a simulator. I’m all confused now.

CHRIS: While you try to figure out if you’re real or simulated, I’ll go over to JSC and talk to astronaut Lee Morin on another Orion simulator called the ROC.

BLAIR: Is he real? Is that real?

CHRIS: Yeah, Lee’s been in space. He is real.

BLAIR: Oh yeah. That’s the real deal.

CHRIS: You’re watching NASA EDGE

BLAIR: For real.

JACKY: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

BLAIR: I think because it might be a simulation.

CHRIS: Are you okay?


BLAIR: Melissa, I know this mock-up is basically human factors but it seems pretty sophisticated. What exactly are you trying to test from a human factor standpoint?

MELISSA: Different astronauts are of different sizes and heights so when they’re in here in simulation you are testing for reach zones. Can they reach the displays? The displays you’re touching are live.

BLAIR: Oh yeah! You just changed that.

MELISSA: Right. Can they actually see that? Can they touch it? Is it at the right height for them to be able to see? Where you currently are, can you see out the windows properly? Yeah.

BLAIR: Check. Check. And check.

MELISSA: That’s very important for human factors.

BLAIR: Just for the record, I’m seeing very well here. You are doing a great job for 5’5” medianauts. You might want to put that in your report.

MELISSA: 5’5” medianauts, I will do that.

BLAIR: Okay, good.

AMBER: This is where we’re developing the simulator for the Orion spacecraft so the crew and engineers can come in and test fly.

JACKY: Astronauts actually sit here and practice.

AMBER: They can come in. Yes.

JACKY: What do you do exactly when it comes to all of this?

AMBER: With this, I am the docking integrator on the Orion. So, it’s my job to ensure that we have safe docking to the International Space Station to the Altair Lunar Lander.

JACKY: So you get to see every little piece?

AMBER: Yes, I get to be involved in a lot of subsystems and I love it.

JACKY: Good. And you’re an engineer?

AMBER: Yes, I am. My background is in aerospace engineering.

JACKY: Oh, perfect. So, what am I looking at?

AMBER: What you’re looking at on this screen is our docking target. This is on the PMA mode 2.

JACKY: What does that mean?

AMBER: PMA is a Pressurized Module Adapter. It’s on the International Space Station. This is the one you dock to when you’re doing a V VAR approach, meaning you’re coming in from the velocity factor.

JACKY: Wow. Okay, great!

AMBER: Up here on this screen you can see the International Space Station. Here are our different systems readings. You can see our propulsion system and some of our flight instrumentation. These are to simulate the displays the crew would be able to see and work with while they’re in the Orion spacecraft.

JACKY: How long did it take to develop something like this?

AMBER: It’s been in the works for a couple of years now. We keep trying to refine the fidelity and make it more flight-like as we develop our requirements and our better trajectories and approaches.

MELISSA: If we come in here and find something is not working, we go back to our design team and to our requirements and work with NASA, our customer, to figure the best way to go about redesigning whatever is not working for the astronaut.

BLAIR: Do they get grumpy? If I went and said “that’s too far.” Would they get mad at me?

MELISSA: No they would not.

BLAIR: Good. I don’t want to make anybody angry.


JACKY: What are you going to teach me to do?

AMBER: I’m going to have you dock the Orion to the International Space Station.

JACKY: Okay.

AMBER: We’re going to start by taking this hand controller. You’ll go forward by pushing it in slightly. Whatever impulse you put into the system it’s going to keep carrying. The International Space Station orbits the earth at 17,500 mph.


AMBER: It’s your target vehicle. Right now, you and Orion are the chaser vehicle. You’re trying to come at 17,500 mph chasing the International Space Station. You’re essentially falling towards the Earth a little slower.

JACKY: Okay.

AMBER: You’re going to have to pull it up more since the way the orbital mechanics work you fall to the earth as you come in. Then you will want to approach very slowly and come in at less then a foot per second when you’re docking to it.

JACKY: Less than a foot per second.

AMBER: Because otherwise it could cause damage to the station.

BLAIR: Some of the challenges you were talking about were reach. I can do a pretty good job although these aren’t real buttons.

MELISSA: Right, that’s correct. That’s currently a mock-up.

BLAIR: If I can touch that knob then I’m flight qualified, right?


BLAIR: Yeah, for the record.

MELISSA: You are now flight qualified.

BLAIR: I like this design. I’m ready to put my stamp of approval on it if that’s all right. What are some of the other things?

MELISSA: The lighting you see right now is actually a proposed design for CEV.

BLAIR: Oh, in terms of color temperature, and all that stuff; visibility under all conditions?

MELISSA: Yes. These displays you can change what you are currently seeing.

BLAIR: How close is this, from a human factors standpoint, to being the actual Orion?

MELISSA: I think we still have a few more design changes we have to make up coming. And we’re not quite to our preliminary design review, which is very big for Orion.

AMBER: You’re 24 feet out from the station.

JACKY: Okay.

AMBER: You’re looking out from the centerline camera view, out of the docking hatch in this one to see the target.

JACKY: Okay.

AMBER: You’re going to want to come down and line it up with… ah.

JACKY: Oh no! I’m going up! I’m supposed to be going down.

AMBER: You’ll be falling.

JACKY: There’s a reason I’m not an astronaut.

AMBER: When people think of docking, this is what they think of when you’re already on the docking axis and just coming in but the whole docking process starts about 6 hours prior when you do your Orion rendezvous proximity maneuvers. Nine feet out; looking good. You can see that “X” in the center. That’s your standup cross.

JACKY: That’s my target?


JACKY: Oh no, it looks like I’m going to hit.

AMBER: No, no. 2 feet out; slow it down a bit. Coming in fast though.

JACKY: No come down.

AMBER: Bring it down.

JACKY: Okay, slow it.

AMBER: Foot & half out. Good speed right there. Bring it in. One more foot to go. Almost in… half a foot.

JACKY: Oh no, don’t go anywhere.

AMBER: Almost there.


AMBER: Congratulations. You have docked the Orion spacecraft.

JACKY: This is an excellent instructor right here.

BLAIR: We’re in the Lunar configuration for four, right?

MELISSA: That’s correct.

BLAIR: Is there any possibility for adding a fifth?

MELISSA: Can you see how tight we’re in here?

BLAIR: What if you did four 5’5” folks?

MELISSA: Well then you start to get into your life support systems all the way up to a lunar mission.

BLAIR: Interesting. It’s not just spatial. If you add another person, they actually consume more.

MELISSA: They consume more oxygen, more space, and more consumables.

BLAIR: Clearly I have to think through some more issues here. What are we doing here? There’s something happening on this screen.

MELISSA: This is you coming up and docking. It’s actually showing you’re docking.

BLAIR: Oh wow. I actually think I heard us dock out there.

MELISSA: Yes. It says docked on there in the green. You actually get a green pop up that came up.

BLAIR: I’m docking and I’m not even doing anything. Okay, you’re getting a good first look at the human factors of the Orion. You’re watching NASA EDGE, an inside and outside look at all things NASA. Where’s the launch button?

AMBER: [laughing] I’m not going to tell you where the launch button is.

BLAIR: I don’t see green up here or anything.

AMBER: I’m not going to tell you.

BLAIR: Nothing that says launch. That’s not really fair.


JACKY: Welcome back to NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA. How many hours do you estimate it would take an astronaut in training in the simulators to be mission ready?

LINDA: If you combine the hours they’re putting in now in all the design and development work and the hours they’re going to put into mission training, hundreds of hours per crewmember.

BLAIR: Okay, maybe hours doesn’t work; weeks, months?

LINDA: Years.

BLAIR: It just seems to me all the preparation that goes into this you’d be spending so much time in these simulators that you might just get overwhelmed. Like when astronauts come back from zero gravity and they’re dropping groceries because they’re use to being in zero gravity, you might get use to living your life in a simulator.

LINDA: That’s why these simulations are so important. Our crew that just returned from Hubble said that because they had so many hours in the simulators and had run these simulations over and over, once they got in orbit they knew exactly what to do and precisely when to do it, like clockwork. That’s what’s critical, especially when we go to the moon because we’ll be on the moon for up to 6 months. It’s not like the Apollo missions where they were there for a matter of days. They got to learn to live and work for a very long time.

BLAIR: If I’m not mistaken, you also take astronauts that have flown and have experience and have them give you feedback on developing more accurate simulators.

LINDA: That’s right. We have a lot of crewmembers over here in the lab regularly working on ingress and egress procedures to get in and out of the Orion crew capsule. They work with our engineers on designing the seat orientation, visual display orientation. That’s all done with our crewmembers. Because they’re going to be flying the Orion, we need their input.

JACKY: When we’re select crewmembers for shuttle, we have specific requirements. Are the requirements changing for the Orion?

LINDA: Yes. The mission is very different. The beauty of Orion is it’s going to be a very adaptable and flexible spacecraft. If NASA needs Orion to take a crew to the Space Station, Orion can handle that. If it needs to go to the moon or onto Mars or even to an asteroid possibly, Orion can handle those types of missions. It’s going to be a versatile spacecraft and it’s also very adaptable as technologies develop through time. This is a new solar ray technology that’s used on the Mars Phoenix Lander. As those solar cells become more innovative, lighter, and smaller, we will be able to upgrade the solar rays in the future.

BLAIR: Is there an effort to move towards one ultimate simulator that covers all aspects of Orion flight?

LINDA: This lab is what I call the predecessor to what we call the CAIL, which is the Crew Exploration Vehicle Avionics and Integration lab. That will be housed over in Building 29. And we will be able to do all the risk and flight scenario mitigation here in this lab. So when we get it over to the CAIL and the crew is ready to train for that first mission everything has been stream lined and worked through. It will work like a charm.

BLAIR: What else is going on in here? We’ve worked on a couple of simulations but what else to you have going on now in the EDL?

LINDA: Right now in the lab, we’re preparing for the first big flight test for the Orion called Pad Abort 1. That is going to test the launch abort system that is a very significant crew safety improvement over the shuttle.

BLAIR: Great. We need to head over to NASA and see how Chris is doing and the ROC. Let’s check that out.

CHRIS: Lee, this simulation is pretty cool. Tell us about the ROC.

LEE: ROC is the Reconfigurable Operational Cockpit. This is a NASA facility that has a very high resolution, virtual reality model. Almost a million polygons of the space station as well as a very good map of the earth and allows us to sit in the Orion cockpit made out of foam core and plywood. It has the right geometry and allows us to exercise the dashboard and see where to place the windows and get an idea of what’s it’s going to be like to fly this vehicle.

CHRIS: When you were designing the inside of the Orion crew module, did you go back to the old Apollo astronauts to get their input?

LEE: We did. We had several sessions with Apollo astronauts asking them all kinds of questions about everything from lunar dust to what was it like riding the Saturn rocket, which is a different experience than riding the shuttle. It has a much higher g-forces. We had some big workshops with the Apollo astronauts. They gave us a lot of insights. That was a fascinating part of this job to spend time with them.

CHRIS: What went into deciding you’re going to have buttons, you’re going to have electronic gismos, digital?

LEE: One of the big things was the weight and taking advantage of modern electronics. The displays are going to be three of these. This is a foam core mock-up of a screen that is used on the 787 jetliner.

CHRIS: Oh really.

LEE: In addition to that, when you’re taking off you’re under so much gravity you won’t be able to reach those. So your hands will be here by your side. It’s called reach zone 1. You will have a thing like a mouse as well as this stick will be down here by your side. You will be strapped into a seat that is very similar to a NASCAR racing seat. The windows are a very critical component. This is how the crew sees outside the vehicle. The windows are designed to be optimized for certain design eye point. This ball is the design eye point. If that’s at the bridge of your nose, your eyes are in the position designed for this vehicle. What this gives you is a sweep of all the windows, including the outer ones that are staggered so they line up with your eye. And the inner ones have the geometry that they give you a good view of the horizon above as well as some forward views. Once you design that, it is very expensive to change. We started on the windows first then we have more time to do the rest of the cockpit. The windows’ design is what we call the outer mold line or the outside shape. There will be video on these screens. The screen is divided into two parts. This half screen would be a video repeater. We have it here in somewhat bigger format but this is what it would look like. There’s a camera called the center-line camera on the nose of the vehicle underneath where are feet are and forward. There’s a little window in that hatch. Through that window there is a camera and that is what you’re seeing here. It’s very important to see your alignment as you dock to the Space Station. Docking to a Space Station is a very intricate series of maneuvers that start thousands of miles away and finally you get very close. We’re going to start about 200 feet out.

CHRIS: You’re still going to be sitting down, maneuvering it, looking through the glass or will you be standing up?

LEE: Yes. On the shuttle you’re floating up, around and people can float in. In this vehicle you will be able to float out of your seat and look at the graphics. If you do that you can look down and see the visuals.

CHRIS: That’s cool. Is there somebody on Station monitoring?

LEE: Absolutely. There would be. People on the Station are going to be monitoring this very closely for several reasons. One is you want to make sure the Station is in the right configuration before you bring a spaceship up to it. Because the shuttle as it moves in has jets that burn in different directions to keep its position in space or nudge it in, some of that exhaust can land on things. You want to make sure things are folded up and put away. So they aren’t damaged by the exhaust. You can see we’re starting to move the centerline of the Orion. It’s focusing in on this docking port on the Space Station.

CHRIS: Are you using laser technology to line the systems up?

LEE: In addition to this optical camera, there is another camera system that creates an image that the computer interprets. You don’t see that image. It’s a very sharp black and white image but there are certain cues that are used to determine the velocity moving in, and other information about the positioning. Some of that information would be displayed on this display as numbers. You can see on the top of this screen there will be electronic procedures. This will be where some things that were checklists in the Shuttle or in the Apollo, these will be on the glass. They will interact with the displays to operate the spacecraft semi automatically. The human will control it but a lot of the work of finding the right display and finding the right switch will be done for you. That will be more accurate and less likely to make mistakes. It will make it easier to train. This also removes quite a bit of weight because the shuttle has hundreds of pounds of books they take up. Those books will be electronic.

CHRIS: As we approach the ISS, I feel my heart pumping a little more. How many hours would an astronaut, such as yourself, be in a simulator practicing?

LEE: You typically will spend hundreds of hours in the simulators practicing approaches, on-orbit activities of various kinds, as well as the launches and landings. You also spend a great deal of time, since I did space walks, in a huge swimming pool. You spend about 10 hours of that for each hour in space, 7 to 10 hours. So, we spend hundreds of hours training.

CHRIS: When you get up in space after all the hours of training, it’s second nature to you?

LEE: Yeah, it feels like you’re at home because everything is familiar. There’s nothing on the earth that captures being in space. But, the training folks here do a great job at creating slices of space so you’re real comfortable with pieces of it and you have no problem putting all those pieces together so you’re prepared for the real experience.

LEE: This is the end of Mode 2. This is the hatch. This is the place where the seal will be between the two spacecrafts and will protect us from gravity. These pedals interact with others that we have on our side that fit together.

CHRIS: It looks like we’re about ready to dock. And once it docks you make sure it has a good seal?

LEE: You make sure you have a seal. One of the big things, particularly with the shuttle is you’ve gotten a good handoff. Something you don’t realize is you have to control your position in space, your attitude. That requires you to constantly nudge the spacecraft. The shuttle has small jets firing that shoot about 37 pounds of force. It nudges the shuttle to keep it in position. The Space Station is doing the same thing. It’s not doing it with jets so much as doing it with huge gyros it internally pushes against the gyrodines. That maintains its attitude. The problem is that once those two join you don’t want both of those vehicles trying to control the attitude because they could start fighting each other. That would be bad. As soon as the shuttle docks the space station goes into what’s called free drift. The Space Station tells the shuttle you’ve got it. I’m not going to control us. You have to adjust your jets to control both of us in space. The way the crew knows that is a light that is on the Space Station structure. You want to see that light flashing. That’s a positive indication that the Space Station has gone into free drift. If it doesn’t you have to immediately undock. If you get the two vehicles fighting each other, it’s bad news.

CHRIS: It’s bad news. Okay. Will the Orion be doing that as well or will the Station be controlling the Orion?

LEE: The Orion is a much smaller vehicle so I think it’s less of a factor. I’m not sure what the guidance folks are going to do with that.

CHRIS: Lee, I want to thank you for giving us an opportunity to show us the ROC. You’re watching NASA EDGE.

LEE: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

[music for credits]

JACKY: I just have to ask. We all have known Blair for a while. How did he really do?

LINDA: Jacky, just between you and me, the engineers thought the low fidelity mock was a little too challenging for Blair. They’re brilliant and they’ve come up with a good low fidelity simulation he can work on by himself.

JACKY: Oh good. Maybe it will make him feel better.

LINDA: Yeah. I hope so.

BLAIR: Rough reentry. Check the tiles. Tiles are good.

› Download Vodcast (426MB)