Student Features

Mission Control Gets Us Into Space
A man stands in front of his desk at the Mission Control Center
The Flight Director's Console Inside Mission Control Center
Each console in the Flight Control Room is the base of operations for a flight control team. Placed atop each console are initials or abbreviated names for each console's function. Each console also has a "call sign," the name the controller uses when talking to other controllers over the various telephone communication circuits. In some cases, console names or initials are the same as the call signs. Mission command and control positions, their respective initials and call signs are listed in the interactive above.

At this Web site, click on the interactive boxes for both the Space Shuttle and International Space Station Mission Control Centers to learn more about the responsibilities of a team.
Computer graphic of the ISS flight control room
ISS Flight Control Room
The Space Shuttle Flight Control Room and the International Space Station Flight Control Room are basically identical in their equipment and supporting structure; however, the ISS Flight Control Room is smaller than the Space Shuttle Flight Control Room and operates with fewer flight controllers. The Space Station Flight Control Room normally operates with a dozen or less flight controllers manning consoles, as compared to the 20 or so controllers normally manning the space shuttle room during a flight. Because the station team is smaller, the room has fewer consoles and is overall physically smaller than the shuttle room. The station room, however, uses workstations and support equipment identical to that used in the shuttle room, and most data related to flight control of the station or shuttle can be viewed from either room. In addition, the station room has two large display screens at the front of the room rather than three such as in the shuttle room, as well as fewer remote television cameras mounted in the room to provide a live broadcast of activities.

Mission Control Frequently Asked Questions

How many people work in Mission Control during a mission?
There are about 50 people on a team, three teams working about 9-hour shifts. In addition, there are many engineering people who support the mission in case there is a peculiar problem. Each team has a flight director and CAPCOM (spacecraft communicator).

What do mission controllers do between missions?
We only spend about 10% of our time in controlling shuttle missions. We spend about another 15% of our time in training using the mission control center, the shuttle simulators at JSC, and a team of trainers to give us problems to overcome, just like it was a real flight. The other 75% of time is spent in planning and organizing the missions.

What kind of education does one need to become a flight controller?
To be considered for a job as a flight controller, you must have an engineering or other technical degree. People who are interested in working as flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center are placed in the Mission Operations organization, either with NASA or the operations contractor. There, they are assigned to a specific technical discipline based on educational background and interest, and spend some number of years in training, with progressively increasing responsibilities depending on demonstrated ability. In addition to demonstrating one's knowledge of his or her technical discipline, other skills which are evaluated during the training process to become a flight controller are communication, interpersonal, initiative, organizational, and team management.

Is it possible for a flight controller or even a flight director to become an astronaut?
It IS possible for flight controllers to become astronauts, and this has happened many times. A few flight controllers get to become flight directors.

What are the responsibilities of the Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO)?
The FDO determines where the shuttle is, where it is going, and where it has been. With the trajectory defined, the FDO also generates, executes, and confirms all translational maneuvers (maneuvers that change the orbit size) to meet specific payload requirements. Once these maneuvers are defined, the FDO is responsible for determining landing opportunities and just as important, evaluate the weather conditions at landing sites around the world. Further, the FDO coordinates with the United States Space Command at the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs to determine if orbital debris poses a threat to the shuttle. Other real time activities that the FDO performs include providing shuttle sighting opportunities (which you can view on the shuttle web site) and state vector postings for a variety of satellites so other people can plot the shuttle ground track on home computers.

Are food and drinks allowed inside Mission Control?
Yes, we do allow food and drinks inside the Mission Control Center (MCC). Depending upon what is happening during the mission, most flight controller's shifts average between 8 and 12 hours with only 5- to 10-minute breaks every 90 minutes. So you can see that without food and drinks, there would be a lot of rumbling stomachs in the Control Center. One of our long-standing traditions in the MCC is the Food List. This is where each Flight Controller takes a day and delights his colleagues with cuisine of his own choosing. This way he only cooks (or buys) once and is covered for the rest of the mission.

Is the MCC position 'Flight Surgeon' always manned by a medical doctor?
During the times that the crewmembers are awake during each flight day, a medical doctor who specializes in aerospace medicine is always on console at the Surgeon position. However, there are also biomedical engineers (BMEs), with training in the medical kits and systems onboard Shuttle, that staff the mission around the clock. This main team usually consists of a crew surgeon, deputy crew surgeon, and a BME mission manager. They are assigned to work all the medical aspects of a specific flight, and are augmented with extra surgeons and BMEs at Mission Control while the main team is away from MCC during the launch and landing of the shuttle.

To learn more about the Mission Control Center, you might want to read the Mission Control Fact Sheet.

Excerpted from