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ScienceWe are NASA Flight Directors. Ask us anything!

Apr 16th 2018 by JSCNASA • 47 Questions • 7697 Points

Thank you for all of your questions! We're signing off shortly, but you learn more about our latest announcements below.

Flight Director applications are open until April 17, and the International Space Station flight control team just released a new e-book that offers an inside look at operations. Learn more: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/new-nasa-e-book-offers-inside-look-at-space-station-flight-controllers

Participants: Flight Director and Lead Author/Executive Editor of e-book Robert Dempsey, Flight Director Dina Contella, Flight Director David Korth, Flight Director Michael Lammers, Flight Director Courtenay McMillan, Flight Director Emily Nelson, Flight Director Royce Renfrew, Flight Director Brian Smith, and Flight Director Ed Van Cise Proof: https://twitter.com/NASA_Johnson/status/985263394105196545

Q:

How many hours do you have in Kerbal Space Program? Thanks for the AMA, great breakfast reading.

A:

Not enough! That is a great program to play around with and introduce challenging concepts. Dr. Bob Galileo Flight


Q:

What type of experience should a candidate focus on for their resume?

A:

Nice name AchieveOrbit! Well there are all kinds of experiences that we look for to work in Mission Control. Generally math and sciences work best, usually aerospace, but it is not a hard and fast rule. We had had English majors work here. We mainly look for smart people who are willing to work hard and are very curious. We then train people what they need to know. Dr. Bob


Q:

So I'm really bad at math, pretty bad at science. Can I come visit though?

A:

Of course! David Korth - Odyssey Flight


Q:

What part of your job does the public have no idea about?

A:

We don't all have PhD's (well except for our illustrious executive editor that is . Dr. Bob Dempsey has his degree in Astrophysics).
Royce Renfrew Tungsten Flight


Q:

What will be the purpose of going back to the moon ? Is it just a "training facility" to prepare for mars ? I was wondering if its worth the effort

A:

As an operations person, we have learned a tremendous amount just by keeping people in low earth orbit on Space Station. It was very challenging, for example, to get the Urine Processing Assembly fine tuned.

I know that a future mission to the moon (or anywhere outside of low earth orbit) would generate a tremendous amount of practical experience that would be applicable to the longer flight to Mars.

Mike Lammers Saturn Flight


Q:

In the time since the space race, much of the public has lost interest in space exploration. What do you think needs to happen to spark the same kind of interest in space exploration today?

A:

I think the progress the commercial companies are making, and the fact that we're getting closer to making spaceflight an adventure 'regular' people can take part in will certainly help folks get more excited. In mission control we're continuing to partner with a wide variety of commercial companies and the ISS program provides a good destination to help further develop and expand the spaceflight community with the goal of enabling space access for all.

Emily Nelson, Peridot Flight


Q:

How do satellites deal with "space junk"? Will we start to see more debris falling from space like the Chinese Space Station? How could it be "cleaned"?

A:

For ISS, we work with the US Air Force Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Space_Operations_Center

JSpOC notifies Mission Control if we are going to have a close approach, hopefully with a few days notice but it has been as little as a few hours. If there is a sufficiently high probability of collision, we will work with our Russian partners at MCC-Moscow to burn the engines and bump ISS in a slightly different orbit to miss the debris. This is outlined in much greater detail in the book (an entire chapter, in fact).

In general the debris environment in low earth orbit has become worse over the last decade or so and is a problem the international community has been working to address but there is no clear answer as yet.

Mike Lammers Saturn Flight


Q:

What about micro-meteoriods? Has the ISS ever been struck by minuscule space stuff?

A:

Oh yes, all of the time. ISS is shielded against debris up to about 1 cm (depending on the velocity) but the exterior has lots of small pits. We do occasional photo surveys to keep track of the damage and in some cases do things like warn spacewalking astronauts if they will encounter a sharp edge.

Mike Lammers Saturn Flight


Q:

How often does the ISS need to maneuver to miss being hit?

A:

In the past couple of years we (ISS) haven't had to maneuver to avoid debris (crossing fingers) but we have had years where we had to perform several in one year. However, as Saturn Flight notes, we do get many notifications every year and have a system designed to determine probability and likelihood of conjunctions. David Korth - Odyssey Flight


Q:

What is your thought process like when you encounter a situation that you have not trained for? Can you give us an example of a time that this happened for you?

A:

Hi, lauren_91. I was on console when we were faced with an issue during a space walk (EVA) when a crew member's helmet started filling with water. We train extensively for EVAs and try to deal with suit and space walk anomalies. In this case, no-one had ever encountered such a failure. However, during training, we did cover situations where the crew's life might be in danger and how to go about terminating a space walk. We drew upon these lessons to work out a plan to get the crew (Luca) back inside the airlock safely. David Korth - Odyssey Flight


Q:
  1. Is it posible to live on Mars?

  2. Can a Candian join NASA? I read that NASA is part of USA's department of defense, so it only allows American citizens to work for them. Is that true?

A:
  1. That's the goal
  2. To be a federal employee yes. If you just mean working at the Johnson Space Center then no. We have people from all over the world working here in the International Program that is ISS.
    Royce Renfrew Tungsten Flight

Q:

Have any of you picked out any prime real estate on Mars yet?

A:

As a kid, I was given a certificate for a 1 square foot area on Mars. I have no idea which square foot it is but I hope its near water. David Korth - Odyssey Flight


Q:

"Hi my name is Solly -I am 12yrs old and I live in Pennsylvania. Thank you for answering questions. What is the best way to become an astronaut? "

A:

Hi, Solly. I am from Pennsylvania too. My team name is Liberty Flight because I grew up in the Philadelphia area. The best way to become an astronaut is to first find something you love to do. You have to work very hard to become an astronaut and loving what you do will help you persevere and compete. Stay focused and learn all you can about NASA and human spaceflight. Brian Smith, Liberty Flight.


Q:

"Thank you and Go EAGLES! I will keep working"

Thanks for making his day :)

A:

Most importantly to do what you are passionate about. And math and science. In high school it would be good to get experience in team building activities. Dr. Bob Galileo Flight


Q:

"thank you very much - I think this is going to help me a lot"

Solly's dad: thank you for making his day :)

A:

Hi rocketmonkee! Right now, TJ Creamer is directing the MCC. Since we have a Flight Director 'on console' around the clock, all year long we have a team of about 27 Flight Directors so that we can not only cover the shifts in the MCC but also do all the advance planning required to make future missions successful.

Emily Nelson, Peridot Flight


Q:

What are your plans to de-orbit International Space Station? Can she be kept up beyond 2024 and be placed in some low maintenance orbit for future generations to experiment on?

A:

Hey, RonDunE. We have worked with our international partners on a plan to deal with de-orbiting the space station in the event of a contingency that would render the ISS unsafe for crew habitation. The basic idea is to target re-entry of the station over the South Pacific Oceanic Uninhabited Area (SPOUA) to minimize casualties. David Korth - Odyssey Flight


Q:

The other side of u/RonDunE 's question still stands though. Are there any plans to move the station into a higher/lower maintenance orbit, so that it never has to deorbit? It seems a real shame to just let it burn up after so much money/time has gone into its creation and maintenance.

A:

Currently no plans to move it to a different orbit. For one thing, accelerating that much mass to get it to a higher orbit requires a lot of propellant! The deorbit plan, as an example, needs about 6 months from start to finish to lower the orbit just enough to grab the atmosphere, and it'll take multiple Progress cargo ships of propellant to do it. I've been working on Space Station Mission Ops since prior to launch of the FGB, so I think of ISS as "my baby." That said, it's going to get to a point where the structure is no longer able to safely sustain a human presence and then it will fail completely. We need to deorbit it before it can be a risk to human life or become space debris. - Ed (Carbon Flight)


Q:

Something I’ve always been curious about is how much planning actually goes into a spacewalk and why are they so long?

Sure I’m sure it takes a ton of effort to get in and out of their suits, but I would think from a human performance standpoint having a break would help an astronaut to maintain peak performance when they need to be focused.

A:

Thanks for the question. Sometimes planning for a spacewalk can take many months, with the instructors training the crew in many facilities. That could include training in our large pool, training in vacuum chambers, and training a facility devoted to building the actual spaceflight hardware. Sometimes, we can perform a spacewalk with much less preparation if we have to, but the crew is often less efficient and can run into problems that we hadn't prepared for. It does take a lot of effort to get into and out of spacesuits and depressing the airlock to vacuum and back up again. This cycle increases risk for our crew in terms of potential for getting "the bends." We carefully plan the ending of the EVA at about 6 hours and 30 minutes to manage both consumables like oxygen and also ensure our crewmembers are not too tired to continue. - Dina Contella, Steel Flight


Q:

Thanks for the answer!

A:

I was the lead Flight Director for a spacewalk in 2014 where we went from having a failure to being out the door in approximately 36 hours. This is atypical. A lot of factors aligned to make this possible. It was a lot of fun working with a lot of amazing people to pull that all together. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition35/e35_051113_eva.html - Ed (Carbon Flight)


Q:

Is there some particular event you were involved with that stands out as a "This is why I do this" moment?

Liam Kennedy Inventor of the ISS-Above

A:

I was the lead Flight Director for the SpaceX CRS-9 mission that brought the International Docking Adapter (IDA) to ISS in 2016. When we were trying to remove the IDA from Dragon's trunk, the tether on one of the bolts got caught on a handrail. It effectively tied the IDA into the Trunk. My amazing team of ROBOs, OSOs, the MER (Engineers), Canadian robotic experts, and SpaceX flight controllers and engineers worked together to very carefully and slowly untangle. There's no option to do a spacewalk inside the Trunk so we only had the SPDM robot, controlled by my ROBO flight controller, to get it unsnagged. Leading an amazing team to overcome challenges like that - that's why I do this. - Ed (Carbon Flight)


Q:

A requirement for application includes a bachelor's degree in select fields from an accredited university. Would you consider an applicant with supervisory experience operating a nuclear submarine engineering department when said applicant did not receive a degree from the USN? I'm curious if that experience carries any weight around NASA HR.

A:

Federal employment requirements are pretty specific, and in my experience the need for a degree from an accredited university is a pretty strict one. I can't speak for HR, but though that experience certainly carries weight with us (thank you for your service) I'm afraid it may not meet the regs.

Emily Nelson, Peridot Flight


Q:

What was it like during the flood of Hurricane Harvey? I heard some folks slept there.

Thanks. Keep up the good work.

A:

Yes, there were a number of us camped out in Mission Control - flight controllers, along with security and center ops folks to keep the lights on. Plus there was a large team testing the James Webb Space Telescope across the street. It was tough - especially since most of us, including the crew onboard ISS, were wondering how our homes were faring.

After the storm passed, the work really started - folks pitched in to help colleagues and neighbors. It was a crazy couple of weeks - and many folks are still recovering.

Thanks for the question! Courtenay McMillan Tranquility Flight


Q:

How do you train astronauts to "get along" with each other?

Edit: Fixed typo

A:

Good question OMGisCarolein. First we try to select people who generally get along with other people. In other words, people that are team players and easy going. We then help train them to understand what life is like on the ISS. By this we show them what activities can be stressful. We also show them your body goes through physical changes (your face gets puffy in weightlessness) so they don't misinterpret a simple reaction. Dr. Bob Galileo Flight


Q:

How do you stay calm in a crisis and what has been a situation that has pushed you to your limits?

A:

Hey Deblee83. I was flight director on console during the water in the helmet space walk (EVA) back in July 2013. When we learned of the severity of the situation, the first things that came to mind were keeping the team talking so they would keep thinking. It is very easy to "freeze in the moment" so you want to keep talking and thinking and promote evaluating the problem and finding solutions. David Korth - Odyssey Flight


Q:

I never would have thought of that.

A:

Courtenay, I thought this was filmed in MCC that day... https://youtu.be/fV1HkTTlZ_I - Ed (Carbon Flight)


Q:

What's the difference between controlling for a space station vs a satellite? Do you have any advice for somebody who's just starting out in this field? I'm about to start my new job as a systems engineer working on the satellite side of things. Anything I should be on the lookout for to add to my resume?

A:

Well controlling a satellite is definitely a challenge but those systems tend to be fairly simple and automated. I worked with Hubble for years and if there was a problem it mainly would just go into a safe mode and wait for instruction. The ISS has people on board and is an extremely complicated system. Since we are trying to operate a variety of experiments things are always changing and dynamic. We also have to be able to make repairs. Since we have people on board we always have to send food and clothes. These are all described in the book in great detail. As to your career - satellites are cool, but working on the ISS program is awesome! Dr. Bob Galileo Flight


Q:

If I join your work force do y'all promise to tell me about the aliens?

A:

Yes. David Korth - Odyssey Flight


Q:

What projects are you looking forward to in the future, such as big projects, or a really large goal that would take many years?

A:

It's a really awesome time to be in human spaceflight. We've moved beyond "can we live long term in low earth orbit" to trying hard to maximize the research and commercialization of low Earth orbit. We're actively working on a variety of ways to enable exploration beyond Earth - from crew transports (Orion) to lunar orbit and surface exploration, to ultimately taking people to the Martian surface. Then there are the commercial ventures - crew transportation and space stations.
For me - I'm looking forward to getting humans beyond Earth again, and keeping them there! - Ed (Carbon Flight)


Q:

What's worse, the fake moon landing conspiracy theory, or the flat earth conspiracy theory?

A:

They're both pretty wrong.

Here's some live video of our nice round Earth: https://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/ESRS/HDEV/

And here's our ISS in front of the moon: https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_2147.html

Courtenay McMillan Tranquility Flight


Q:

I read an article recently on how NASA over worked their employees 16 hours a day until they did a small mutiny to change that (they've been all let go after it), my question is: Are there times when it you guys feel like you're not being paid enough or that you're being over worked? If so, how do you think NASA can accomodate to it in the near future?

Thanks again for showing up, I love all the work you science nerds do!

A:

I think you are thinking of what was called the "Skylab Mutiny", which occurred when Mission Control oversubscribed the astronauts on the Skylab space station in the early 70's.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylab_mutiny

We drew from that event (and earlier in ISS) to keep the ISS crew to an 8.5 hour workday and try to give them as much schedule flexibility as possible because they become more efficient when they control their own time. For future missions, the more flexibility the crew can be given in general the better off they are, although it's not always possible due to coordination with the ground, critical events, etc.

Mike Lammers Saturn Flight


Q:

What is the meaning of life? Just kidding, based on your experiences, what leadership qualities have you found to be most effective toward completing a mission and keeping morale high in crisis situations? I'm a mechanical engineering student going into the air force after I graduate so I'm just curious

A:

Patience and teamwork skills are incredibly important. "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast" is a great mantra for this job. - Ed (Carbon Flight)


Q:

What is the meaning of life? Just kidding, based on your experiences, what leadership qualities have you found to be most effective toward completing a mission and keeping morale high in crisis situations? I'm a mechanical engineering student going into the air force after I graduate so I'm just curious

A:

In addition to what Carbon Flight stated, I would add being a good listener and good communicator. David Korth - Odyssey Flight


Q:

Are aliens real?

A:

Great question - but since none have applied to join our space programs yet, we don't know either!

Courtenay McMillan Tranquility Flight


Q:

Currently taking my dynamics course for my aerospace engineering degree and absolutely loving it. My professor recommends graduate school since dynamics plays a huge role in the aerospace industry. Is this true and do you recommend it? I do really want to go into graduate school but finances is the elephant in the room.

A:

I love dynamics! But you know what else plays a huge role in the aerospace industry? BS Aerospace Engineers! A lot of us started our career after finishing undergrad, and then found our way to a grad program after learning it partly on the job. Both paths work, it's just a matter of what will work for you.

Courtenay McMillan Tranquility Flight


Q:

I know there have been many lessons learned over the years from the various programs. Have there been any lessons learned from ISS that have changed the way mission control operates?

A:

Oh yes, we learn new lessons every day!

For example, shorter spaceflights (think the Space Shuttle) put the entire crew on a tight timeline down to the minute.

This still works for certain activities (like a spacewalk). We've found, however, that the more a crew can "self schedule" and control what they do during the day the more efficient they become. We give them a job jar of activities to work called the "task list".

If you take a look at the book, there are a lot more details on the crew scheduling and many other things we have learned!

Mike Lammers Saturn Flight.


Q:

I know there have been many lessons learned over the years from the various programs. Have there been any lessons learned from ISS that have changed the way mission control operates?

A:

ISS is really the first long duration mission that we have operated. Every year there are flight controllers on console during the major holidays, weekends and nights. That is true for all of the control centers for the 5 International Partners and our commercial providers when they are on board. There are several references to this in the book as well.
Download the complete book from the NASA e-books site: www.nasa.gov/ebooks Royce Renfrew Tungsten Flight


Q:

How stressful is your job?

A:

We all love what we do and the training, simulation, and years of experience we put in before we are put in the Flight Director chair prepare us pretty well.

So, I do not consider it particularly stressful - although after a pretty hectic sim I definitely need to unwind for a bit to shut my mind down.

Mike Lammers Saturn Flight


Q:

How stressful is your job?

A:

This job is not a walk in the park. But we have spent our careers training for it. I find the Mission Control part of the job to be less stressful than some of the other parts of the job - it is a leadership role where we have to give a lot of presentations, lead large meetings, and making a lot of decisions outside of the control center on a constant basis. But, the trade off is that this job is extremely rewarding! Dina Contella, Steel Flight


Q:

Can the astronauts aboard ISS take new pictures of Uranus?

A:

Unfortunately, the Nikon cameras they use likely cannot resolve a 6th magnitude celestial object. :-;

Mike Lammers Saturn Flight


Q:

19 yr. old studying Mech and Elec Eng at Bath Uni in the UK here. Was wondering how many people from the UK you have over there? I am aware that the policy on non-US citizens working for a Government/International company is strict, but do you still get colleagues from other countries who have achieved citizenship through being valuable enough to get a job at NASA, if that makes sense. Or just in general do you have people from other countries there :) and question 2: have a Trappist 1e? Poster on my wall, and I've always been interested in the possibilities of expanding to other solar systems. Naturally the problem of the travel time is huge. What solutions do you see emerging first for the human race, if we should progress so far? I follow decently on gravity slingshots, plasma engines and solar webs and the like (I think webs is the wrong word. But solar wind powered.) I could go on, but I'd like to open it up for your ideas. Appreciate your time :)

A:

Well the "I" in ISS stands for international! So we have people from all over. I work regularly with Russians - something amazing considering where we were years ago. And British astronaut Mike Foale as been in space! Well unfortunately I think the only real way to explore other solar systems for many years will be to observe the light and radio emissions from them. Dr. Bob Galileo Flight


Q:

What movie had the most accurate depiction of NASA flight control?

A:

Apollo 13! We use that for training new flight controllers. And it is just an awesomely fun movie! Dr. Bob Galileo Flight


Q:

Tough questions - What was the contingency plan if the manned maneuvering unit of Bruce McCandless II failed during his EVA. His image of walking in untethered in space is still my favorite pic. But it always gives me the creeps that you are floating in space with nothing attached.

Tough question 2 - if we see a chain reaction situation similar to the one depicted in the movie gravity. Are we prepared for it?

Thank you and greetings from India.

A:

I can get the first part of that -

If the MMU (which has been retired for some time) had a failure the space shuttle could have maneuvered to go get him.

We have a smaller maneuvering pack called the SAFER (Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue) that the astronauts carry on all spacewalks today. It is designed to allow an astronaut to fly back to ISS if they become untethered during a spacewalk since ISS cannot maneuver to get them.

This should never happen. Much of spacewalk training and operations revolve around tether protocol and safety so that a crew member does not come untethered, ever.

Mike Lammers Saturn Flight


Q:

Wow! Seeing your reply to my post had made my day. Thank you thank you. Cheers from the other side of Atlantic, Sid

A:

Bruce McCandless was performing his spacewalk based from the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle was able to maneuver with jets to go get him if necessary. On the International Space Station, our astronauts performing space walks don't float out using a backpack but they wear a backpack to fly back to the station if they were to accidentally 'fall off' (become untethered). As to the second question, we try to avoid collision in space by maneuvering the space station. We train in the control center and also train our crews in case of rapid depressurization of the space station, and we can bring our crew home in the Soyuz spacecraft in many scenarios. Dina Contella, Steel Flight


Q:

how long does it take to plan a launch ?

A:

Launches are really complicated to plan. This is an extremely dangerous phase of flight since only a small perturbation or system failure can lead to an explosion. And if people are on it that makes it tougher. Chapter 5 details how much time it takes to plan a mission to give you a feel - years. I have been working on one of the new crewed vehicles - the Boeing Starliner - and we have been planning the choreography of the first launch for a bout 4 years. Dr. Bob Galileo Flight


Q:

Do you believe we will find evidence of life in space?

A:

Absolutely! Every time I'm in mission control, I see evidence of life in space on our cameras - 6 humans alive and well on the International Space Station. - Ed (Carbon Flight)


Q:

My initial goal in life was to be an astronaut (partially cause CapCom always sounded cool as a kid) but being 26 now and still having 2 years til my Aerospace bachelors has made me reevaluate options.

I grew up in houston and want to be involved in manned space flight. I was wondering what qualifications are necessary to land in mission control in general? I know theres a training room of sorts but I never knew the selection process for it.

A:

A BS in math or science. And 26 is not too old and you never know. But working in Mission Control is really cool. In fact there have been fewer Flight Directors than astronauts - so it is actually more rare! Dr. Bob Galileo Flight


Q:

What’s the most sweaty experience you’ve experienced during a launch of any kind?

A:

bordsskiva, I had a chance to watch a Soyuz launch in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. I was told it would be cold and windy but that evening the weather was unseasonably warm so i sweated a lot in my sweater and coat! It's usually rather cold out on the kosmodrome. David Korth - Odyssey Flight