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America's Nerve Center for Mission Operations

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Were flight operations to be part of the design center, MSC in Houston, or part of the operations center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida where Mercury controls were housed? Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland had the attraction of being conveniently located near the nation's capital and NASA Headquarters. Would travel requirements be greater or less if the control center were located in Maryland, Texas or Florida? It was soon decided that mission control and operations would become a major component of MSC responsibilities.

The Mission Control Center during Gemini V
Image above: Overall view of the Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center during the first day of the Gemini V flight. Credit: NASA + View Image

"Discussions among MSC management quickly recognized that operations requirements would be a critical factor in the design of all manned spacecraft," said former JSC Director Dr. Christopher C. Kraft. "Therefore the location of the astronauts and the flight operations engineers adjacent to the engineers responsible for the management of the aerospace companies building the hardware became a highly desirable requirement. Also it was recognized that once the launch had taken place, the location of a control center on Earth was not a significant factor. Considering these factors, it was decided that the best location for a Mission Control Center and the facilities for training the astronauts would be with the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston."

The MCC enables the flight control team to perform its critical duties. With the knowledge of the Mercury experience and a vision of what Gemini and Apollo would require, designers and developers began defining the parameters of the MCC in Houston along with its network, recognizing that its hardware would evolve over the years.

Spacecraft communicators during Apollo 11
Image above: Spacecraft communicators are pictured as they keep in contact with the Apollo 11 astronauts during their lunar landing mission on July 20, 1969. From left to right are astronauts Charles M. Duke Jr., James A. Lovell Jr. and Fred W. Haise Jr. Credit: NASA + View Image

Construction of the control center began in late 1962. Evolution of the concept of a control center continued throughout the Apollo Program. Floor space was allocated for representatives of the spacecraft program office who, along with JSC engineering and vehicle contractors, supported each mission. This increased presence strengthened the problem-solving capabilities of the MCC team. The spacecraft program office support team occupied what became known as the "SPAN" or Spacecraft Analysis Room. JSC and industry engineering teams supported missions in this room. This arrangement allowed immediate contact with key JSC engineering and industry representatives in case assistance were needed in resolving any technical anomalies that might arise during missions.

"Here we move from a system with virtually no computing capability, totally analog, only two systems console with couple dozen meters, and two TVs to now where-miracle of miracles!-we had TVs on all the consoles," said Eugene Kranz, former director of JSC's Mission Operations Directorate. "We could look at our data on television. All of the computers we had were large, centralized systems at that time because the desktop-systems, small computers we use nowadays just did not exist. But, the systems that we used now allowed us to process data, to string the data together. So we had in Gemini the merging of two worlds. We had this new world of the Mission Control Center, Houston, but it was still tied to the old world of the network. Because worldwide communications didn't exist at that time, we still got tracking information by low-speed teletype, and we got summary messages."

NASA managers in MCC during Apollo 13
Image above: Prototype of the "mail box" constructed at the Manned Spacecraft Center to remove carbon dioxide from the Apollo 13 Command Module is displayed in the Mission Control Center. The 'mail box' was constructed when it became apparent that carbon dioxide was prevalent in the Command Module and the spacecraft's lithium hydroxide system was not removing it sufficiently. Looking at the "mail box" are, from left: Milton Windler, shift 1 flight director; Dr. Donald (Deke) Slayton, director of flight crew operations, MSC; Howard Tindall, deputy director, flight operations, MSC; Sigurd Sjoberg, director, flight operations, MSC; Dr. Christopher Kraft, deputy director, MSC; and Dr. Robert Gilruth, director, MSC. Credit: NASA + View Image

Houston's initial MCC directed that Gemini IV flight and all subsequent Gemini and Apollo flights and some space shuttle flights. The original MCC working life began with the first space walk during that Gemini mission in June 1965 and ended in March 1996 with the launch of STS-76, which saw the first space walk of U.S. astronauts outside of the Russian Mir space station.

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