Shuttle, Houston by Paul Dye

Shuttle, Houston by Paul Dye

Author:Paul Dye [DYE, PAUL]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Hachette Books
Published: 2020-07-14T00:00:00+00:00

Fly the Plan

Planning a mission took a large number of organizations. It really took parts of the entire agency. Training for the mission, however, was mostly the province of the MCC teams and the crew (and all the associated training organizations that were part of Mission Operations). But once it came time to fly, the entire NASA community once again got involved—flying a mission was just a huge endeavor.

It was necessary, of course, to have a focal point for flight, and that point was the Mission Management Team (MMT). The MMT consisted of the senior managers of all the organizations involved in the flight, and it was chaired by the Shuttle Program Manager (or more accurately their deputy for operations). The MMT could number up to two dozen members at times, because flying a Shuttle affected a lot of people. Mission Operations, Engineering, the science community, the launch teams at KSC—these were the big ones and the most obvious. But there were also payload representatives, the manager of the ISS program (when we were flying to the Station), the EVA Program Office, and other organizations such as NASA Safety and Mission Assurance. While the flight control team—or more accurately, the on-console Flight Director—had real-time authority to make any decision they felt necessary for the safety of the crew and the success of the mission (as defined in the flight rules), the MMT had overall authority for non-real-time direction of the mission.

Essentially, any major decision that was not already covered in the pre-mission flight rules (and couldn’t wait until a meeting of the MMT was convened) was the prerogative of the Flight Director. This is what we were paid to do (as well as a thousand other things, of course). Familiarity with all the decisions that went into planning the mission was what gave us the ability to make those decisions, if necessary. If, however, a situation arose that wasn’t already talked about in the pre-mission time frame and didn’t have a premade decision to cover it—and there was time to get the MMT to weigh in—we tried to do that. After all, the Flight Director didn’t actually “own” the mission—the program did, and it was only right for the MMT to make critical decisions that might change the direction of the flight.

This all sounds nice and clear-cut, but in reality it wasn’t. If a situation arose that demanded a complete change in direction, it was the job of the flight control team to lay out the various options, determine the implications of each possible course of action, and make a recommendation to the MMT on what they thought was the best way to go. Oftentimes, it took quite a bit of education, and answering lots of questions, to get the MMT headed in the proper direction. The good news, of course, is that the MMT was generally composed of people who once worked in the trenches—as flight controllers, Flight Directors, engineering systems managers, mission scientists, and the like. So rarely were we starting from scratch when it came to bringing the MMT up to speed.


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