In 1984 I moved to Houston to work at the NASA-Johnson Space Center. I worked with a team of software developers to computerize the flight controllers’ work. The original Apollo Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) was used for space shuttle operations.
Our job was to shift the work process from paper to computers. The flight controllers were still using big binders of shuttle diagrams to trace problems and decide on solutions. We worked on the Failure Analysis Program (FAP) and Shuttle Configuration Analysis Program (SCAP), which was experimental at the time. They simulated a variety of possible failures for risk analysis: what happened, why, and how to solve a problem to maintain safety.Later, the MOCR was renamed Mission Control Center (MCC).
My office at NASA-JSC was in the same building as the flight controllers and astronauts — including Sally Ride!
I saw astronauts from every U.S. space program: Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Apollo-Soyuz. I passed them in hallway, I attended mission briefings, and saw them at picnics, and the annual chili cook-off. It was amazing to see Alan Shepard — the first U.S. astronaut to go into space. I remember hearing his flight on the radio when I was in grade school! I saw Deke Slayton during a fun run who flew the Apollo-Soyuz mission — U.S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts met in peace in space. The astronauts I had seen launch in the very first space shuttle mission — John Young and Bob Crippen — enjoyed taste-testing and judging chili from the various teams.
I saw John Glenn after his shuttle flight. Years later at the 30th anniversary picnic, I shook hands with Neil Armstrong — the first human to walk on the Moon.
There were other opportunities outside regular work tasks. I joined the amateur radio club in time to be part of the Shuttle Amateur Radio EXperiment (SAREX) team. I helped in writing the antenna tracking computer program code to the NASA-JSC the space shuttle when it went overhead. This was the first time that there was two-way television communication between the space shuttle and Earth. It was a major historic change in space communications we take for granted. I used the camera to record images and radio equipment to call up to the shuttle. I also worked with a friend to design a logo for this piece of history.
In 1988, I worked with the Human Factors group to research lessons learned from past space missions. We were interested in the future: how to live in space for long periods of time. Our job was to locate material from NASA and university libraries. We were doing something new in trying to figure out how to get scattered paper data to create a database. There was no existing model for doing it.