Even though we sometimes hated them, the training teams that prepared mission control and the astronauts for every flight are real heroes. Without their efforts, all of us flight controllers would have believed we knew everything there was to know about everything and would have tripped over our own shoelaces at the first sign of trouble.
I can remember after about a year of integrated training for STS-1, just when we were feeling like we were hot stuff, a new capability drop for the simulators came on line. That first day of training with the new capability, the EGIL sang out “Control Bus AB1 is down” on the Flight Director loop. We all looked at blankly each other and asked, ‘what the heck is a control bus’. Turns out that failures in the shuttle electrical system works were not simulated before, and now they were. All of us learned an awful lot about the shuttle electrical system very quickly.
Training flight controllers and astronauts was a complex job especially when we had “integrated training” which was the closest thing to real space flight available. There were certain ‘cases’ that each flight controller and crew member were required to experience and master. These malfunction cases were practiced over and over and over again until they became so routine that we were bored by them; identification and reactions were automatic and swift.
Then there were new cases for new crew members and new flight controllers; hundreds of potential malfunctions that could possibly occur. Each new person had to demonstrate familiarity and confidence to identify and rectify hundreds of potential shuttle systems failures. Little failures, big failures, complex failures, simple failures. Hundreds, if not thousands.
Then the gain was raised with complex interacting multiple failures: this computer and that electrical bus, this IMU and that GPS, this hydraulic system and that aero data set with wind shear, this TAL abort and that leaking tire, and on and on and on. A seemingly infinite set of dual complications.
Master all the dual combinations? Get ready for triples! Shesh.
On a busy day the sim team had to make sure that multiple flight controllers saw multiple failures in each eight and a half minute shuttle launch profile. We generally did six launches in one day. Or in the entry sims that simulated the last 15 minutes of entry – four of those cases filled up a day. The nexus for all problems of course was the Flight Director. Sometimes it felt like the Flight Director was wading through a class of excited grade school students all calling for his attention at once. The Flight Director had to recognize and prioritize failure responses very quickly. Some things just had to wait (“Flight, the cockpit voice recorder just failed, have the crew switch to recorder #2.” ” OK INCO, we will do that as soon as we get the cabin air leak stopped, the fire out, and the abort mode selected”).
Flight Directors – including this one – tended to get testy on days like that. ‘Not realistic Sim Sup’ or ‘We will never have an ascent with that many failures Sim Sup’ or other brief communications that we cannot reproduce in a family oriented publication. In the old MCC of Apollo heritage which we used for early shuttle missions, the Sim Control team area overlooked the Flight Control Room – but there were curtains on the MCC side When the Flight Director really had enough, he would have the curtains closed, blocking off the sim control team’s view. Later on, the sim team used the remote controlled TV cameras in the Flight Control room to observer their victims, er, trainees during tense moments.
An eight and a half minute ascent simulation with a full malfunction count could leave you breathless and heart racing. Sometimes the debrief took two hours to discuss what had happened and action items would be assigned that might take weeks of research to finally answer.
When we got to real flight, it was so calm by comparison as to be boring. Many the nominal ascent I would look back and wonder what we trained so hard for.
Then came STS-93.
After that one, the Flight Directors complained a lot less about busy training runs.