Bruce Schneck has worked in communications for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Greenbelt Md., for more than 30 years. He has participated in many Shuttle launches and landings, but there are two other events he considers the greatest moments of his NASA career. The first was visiting Kennedy Space Center where he got a unique view of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. "We were afforded an opportunity to climb aboard and tour the entire orbiter," Schneck says.
Another great feat was designing the ground station equipment that will be used to capture the video from a camera mounted on Space Shuttle Discovery’s External Tank as it launches into orbit.
Schneck is manager of Human Spaceflight at Goddard, which provides key support to the Space Shuttle's Return to Flight. GSFC supervises, operates and controls the agency's Spaceflight Tracking Data Network (STDN). "We are the astronauts' lifeline to Houston's Mission Control," Schneck says.
From lift off through landing, the astronauts aboard the Shuttle along with the thousands of people supporting the flight on Earth depend on Goddard’s team of experts to manage this complex communication system. Maintaining good communications is critical. The GSFC team provides Johnson Space Center's Mission Control Center data to monitor the performance of thousands of systems on the Shuttle, send flight commands and navigational instructions, relay science data, support voice communications between the astronauts and mission control along with video and live television feeds.
The STDN is comprised of two systems – a ground-based network composed of communication stations, and a space network operating orbiting satellites. The ground-based stations are located across the United States as well as various points around the world. These stations can be used to directly communicate with the Space Shuttle or to relay communications coming from the space network of satellites known as the Tracking Data and Relay Satellites (TDRS) system. The TDRS satellites are positioned in geostationary orbit, meaning they stay above the same spot on the Earth at all times.
As the Shuttle orbits the Earth, the Goddard team is monitoring and continually adjusting the communication pathways to ensure that command, tracking, telemetry, video, and voice communications are clear and secure.
Schneck says the loss of Columbia has drawn the Human Space Flight teams at Johnson, Kennedy, and Goddard much closer together. "We've spent thousands upon thousands of hours to get ready for this flight…hoping this will be the next great moment in NASA's history."