Free NASA e-book offers inside look at space station flight controllers

The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier captures the efforts put in to the development, planning and integration of a mission

Free NASA e-book offers inside look at space station flight controllers

The outer space has attracted human beings since time immemorial. Driven by this urge to know life outside Earth, humans have made a space for themselves in the outer space. Since the beginning of this millennium, 2 November, 2000, to be precise, the International Space Station has been hosting humans.

And these people in the space are monitored round the clock, by a team on the ground.

“…for every hour of those 6,371 days and counting, a team of men and women on the ground have been watching over the space station’s crews and systems from the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston,” says NASA in a post on its website.


So, what does this team do? How does it work? And how is the knowledge collected by them used?

The answers to all these questions can now be found in a book authored by the 10 space station flight directors who lead this team. The International Space Station: Operating an Outpost in the New Frontier captures the team’s collective knowledge and offers an inside look at efforts the flight control teams put in to “the development, planning and integration of a mission”.

The book is now available to download for free.

“I wanted to tell the story of the women and men who quietly work around the clock making human spaceflight a spectacular success from behind the scenes,” says Flight Director Robert Dempsey, lead author and executive editor of the book, in the NASA post by Editor, Mark Garcia.

The 400-page book documents the flight directors’ combined 45,000 hours of experience at the Mission Control. In addition to Dempsey, the nine other authors are Dina Contella, David Korth, Michael Lammers, Courtenay McMillan, Emily Nelson, Royce Renfrew, Brian Smith, Scott Stover and Ed Van Cise.

Dempsey and his co-authors have split the book’s 20 chapters into two categories — “systems” and “Day in the Life”.

In the “systems” chapters, readers can find an overview of the key functional elements such as the computers and communications and life support. All 10 “systems” chapters are followed by “Day in the Life” chapters that detail how the flight controllers operate at various points during a mission.

“After working on the space station’s computer systems for five years, I realized what it meant to be a ‘rocket scientist,” Dempsey said, adding: “It’s not about the technology but people who believed in teamwork, vigilance, responsibility and competence. That’s what I hope people take away from reading this book.”

The complete book can be downloaded from the NASA e-books site www.nasa.gov/ebooks

Some excerpts can be found at an International Space Station blog entry.

NASA will be holding a Reddit Ask Me Anything open session on April 16 where anyone can chat with the book’s authors and clear their queries. The session will start at 3 pm Central Daylight Time (1.30 am IST), Monday.

It doesn’t end here.

NASA has already invited applications from people who want to become a flight director. NASA is hiring new flight directors at its mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“Those chosen will lead human spaceflight missions involving the International Space Station, including integrating American-made commercial crew spacecraft into the fleet of vehicles servicing the orbiting laboratory, and Orion missions to the Moon and beyond,” says a post on the NASA website.

“Flight directors play a critical role in the success of our nation’s human spaceflight missions,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson. “The job is tough, the responsibilities are immense, and the challenges can seem insurmountable. But the experiences and personal rewards are incredible.”

The selected candidates will head teams of flight controllers, research and engineering experts, and support personnel around the world, “and make the real-time decisions critical to keeping NASA astronauts safe in space”.

The post says NASA’s missions require strong, creative leaders and it is looking for a mix of people with diverse backgrounds.

Eligible candidates have time till April 17 to apply at https://go.nasa.gov/FlightDirector