Thursday, July 2, 2015

Wiener Dog, on the Blog

When my great grandma Rose died several years ago her stuff was split up for anyone who wanted something. I ended up with a simple set of daily sayings, sometimes prayers, sometimes phrases or quotes. They are printed on small pieces of paper and held together with two metal rings. The little sayings live in my kitchen drawer so I can reference them each morning with breakfast. Here is what the rolodex told me the other day:

"Don't pray for rain if you are going to complain about the mud."

I needed that little nudge so hard that day, and most days I can use the sayings it spews. 

The little things in life. 


Like trying to take a nap on the couch with a wiener dog hogging the space ;-)

Little things are sooooooo good. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

iPhone photos - an update!

I'll freely admit I enjoy routines. 
But lately our lives have not been especially "routine". 

You may have heard about Tropical Storm Bill? 
Everyone in Houston freaked out, the grocery stores ran out of food and water, NASA allowed us "liberal leave" to avoid driving in bad conditions...and then we got about 4 inches of rain. Don't get me wrong, I love working from home on stormy days 
(I still looooove rain, must be that desert blood in me). 

Our backyard view of TS Bill. 
The impending tropical storm delayed our visitors by one day. Chris's dad and his girlfriend drove from Alabama to hang out with us over Father's Day weekend. It was nice to just hangout, relax, and catch up. On Father's Day the boys wanted to go go-karting, so we went to two different tracks (one indoor and one outdoor). I raced with them on the outdoor track, but I didn't feel up for the "pro-race" at the indoor track. 


I'm trying to get the motivation to clean house and do laundry post-guests...but ugh...sometimes I would rather lounge on the couch and watch Netflix ;-)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How Diabetes is Like Mission Control: Dynamic Ops

Ok, I know some of you hear "ISS Pilot" and picture me sitting in Mission Control with a joystick and a heads up display. Sorry to ruin your amazingly creative imagination, but it turns out the ISS usually flies itself. So...what do I do while sitting there watching ISS trace over Earth every 90 minutes?

I plan.

Let me explain.

In NASA terms there are two distinct phases of ISS flight: quiescent ops and dynamic ops. Those are big fancy words which essentially translate into "ISS is flying itself" and "ISS is changing how it's flying". As an ADCO Operator, I sit console during mostly quiescent periods. But its us "quiescent" folks that really dig into planning for the dynamic ops. We verify that every detail of the plan is ready for the specialist to execute, including talking to our Russian counterparts, verifying the correct procedures are linked, and double checking all of the analysis.

It turns out a life with Type 1 Diabetes has a similar scheme, except I'm less of an "Operator" and more of a "Specialist". While a dynamic operation for the space station may be something like a vehicle docking or spacewalk, for Type 1 Diabetics something as mundane as eating food without a nutrition label can quickly become a dynamic op. Trivial activities, like exercise or travel, take hours, days, or months to plan...and sometimes even longer to perfect. You see, our personal equations for how our body reacts to food and insulin only cover a normal, or "quiescent" day - a day when all ingested carbohydrates are known and the body is functioning at a steady metabolic rate and hormones are level and everything is unicorns and rainbows. Unfortunately, life is a tiny bit more unpredictable.

For me personally, it takes about 6 hours to plan for a workout session. Since I usually workout in the evening, I have to be overly conscious of what I eat at lunch to ensure there are some fats to slow down the carbs. Then I usually eat a small snack at about 4 pm, followed by a temporary basal rate that decreases the amount of insulin my pump delivers during my workout. All of this leg work is just the prep - before, during and after the workout I am vigilantly monitoring my Continuous Glucose Monitor graph and making adjusts or slowing the workout if the numbers don't match my predictions. But, just like spaceflight, sometimes Diabetes throws in a curve ball.

Here's what happened when I thought I was all set up for a mid-morning workout:


I don't have the luxury of running complex analysis before each dynamic Diabetes op, so I suffice with a more rudimentary approach - [educated] guess and check. Luckily NASA doesn't have to rely on this method very often; there are a lot of smart people, models and history to more accurately predict the outcome during space station dynamic ops [thank goodness :-].

The post-dynamic op period is essentially identical between NASA and my Diabetes management. At NASA we are constantly self-evaluating to improve our flight controller skills, planning tools, procedures, processes, etc. to ensure the next iteration of the event flows even smoother. Diabetes is the same. I take data from each dynamic op (for instance, a mid-morning workout) and determine what I could have done to improve the experience. From my picture it's clear I should have decreased the amount of insulin I was receiving, or ate more carbohydrates for breakfast, or picked a slower-paced workout. Luckily I was prepared for the "next-worse-failure" (another NASA term) by having glucose tablets handy to bring my blood sugar back into range. Looks like I need to increase my model's history for this dynamic op!

Of course my console shifts are not entirely just planning. I'm also there to monitor the system and react to any anomalies (hence the abundance of sims laced with failures leading up to certification), but the same applies to Diabetes. As much as I plan and adjust and replan and correct there will always be anomalies. Maybe the insulin in my pump got hot in the sun and lost effectiveness, maybe the 5k turns into a 10k by the time I get back to my car, maybe there is a stressful life event that affects my blood sugar, maybe my SWAG (scientific-wild-ass-guess) on the carbs in that pie was way off.

It's important to keep one's skills "sharp" (that's a needle pun) both in managing Type 1 Diabetes and controlling the International Space Station - in either case suddenly and unexpectedly one may find themselves in a role where their performance has ultimate consequences.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Patriotic Adventures

It may seem like my life revolves around Mission Control lately. And, honestly, I've been putting quite the emphasis on that since I am just so stinking proud. But Chris and I do have lives outside of work - including fun visits to the sites in Houston. 

On Memorial Day we checked out Battleship Texas with Chris's mom, Pam. It was quite muggy, but the rain held off for most of the day. We all really enjoyed walking through the century-old battleship, moving the guns around, and reporting to the bridge ;-) Fun facts: the USS Texas was used in both World Wars, and was the first battleship to launch an aircraft!



Check out the size of that piston!!
A week later we attended our first Houston sporting event - an Astro's game! Chris got the tickets for all the hard work he has been putting in at Boeing lately. Since we are both such big sports fans (ahemmm....sarcasm there), we really just enjoyed eating the terribly delicious stadium food and people watching. 



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Side note: check out Type 1 Ryan's Adventure of the Week! And send me an email @ nerdyapril@gmail.com if you want to send him your story!!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

50 Years of Mission Control

Yesterday, 3 June, was the Houston Mission Control Center's 50th birthday.
What an honor to be at the controls solo during this significant milestone!

I'm immensely proud that my thread of existence is woven into the fabric 
of such an incredible adventure. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

April's Flight Controller Quest

This afternoon/evening is my first "solo" shift as an Attitude Determination and Control Officer in Mission Control. Ohmygosh I'm so excited/nervous/anxious/NASA(!!!!!)...so excited I wrote you a poem. It's a poem by an engineer, so don't get too excited ;-) But I assure you my ISS flying skills are much better than my poem-writing skills. Also, I may be flying ISS over a city near you, check it out here
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I never imagined they would pick me, 
By heck and by golly I was an ADCO trainee!
Two years ago I stood out from the rest, 
But then came the learning, training and tests.

Oral exams for the four CMGs, 
Workbooks to study the two GNCs. 
Then came the part about two RGAs, 
And how we get power from the sun's rays. 

Wait, wait, wait....let's start at the beginning...here's what it means to be an ADCO - poem style:

Tom-Tom and Garmin work for cars and jets,
That's right, you guessed it...we fly with GPS.
Four antennas feed data to two boxes,
A way to navigate - even for rockets.

You won't hear Betty telling you to turn right, 
Or that you'll want to keep left at the fork - slight. 
We interpret the data here on the ground, 
To make sure the orbit is generally round. 

Two little black boxes, called the RGAs, 
Fill in the data, help us to propagate.
They may be small, and triangular in shape,
But inside they have lasers that define rate!

Together these instruments help us to fly, 
They send us data from up in the sky. 
We determine orbit parameters, 
State and attitude of astro-travelers.

To keep the correct orientation, 
We have to balance the entire space station. 
Four CMGs use properties of science, 
Stabilize ISS, decrease prop reliance. 

External torques can cause ADCO concern, 
Leaks, thrusters and arrays - it's a lot to learn. 
Simulations help us train a LoAC,
By the end you could say, "Hey, she has a knack!"

Its not over yet, we have some computers,
A hellofa lot of them, it's not a rumor!
As ADCO we focus on two GNCs, 
When they operate right, our minds are at ease. 

These compys perform tons of calculations,
Filtering, vibrations, and some summations.  
They run loops, check systems, and send commands, 
The details are difficult to understand. 

Then we gather the brain cells we can muster, 
To learn about the Russian Segment's thrusters. 
There are a bunch, and their logic is complex,
But useful to avoid space debris objects. 

Working on console is more than technical, 
It requires good comm, and being flexible. 
Discipline, teamwork, toughness, confidence,
Responsibility, vigilance, and competence. 

So that's what I do in Mission Control, 
Keep 'er straight and level (avoid barrel rolls).
It's quite the dream job - its mine anyway, 
I just want to jump up and shout, "Hurray!!"

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The Acronyms (in order of appearance):
- ADCO: Attitude Determination and Control Officer
- CMG: Control Moment Gyroscope
- GNC: Guidance, Navigation and Control Computer
- RGA: Rate Gyro Assembly (each made up of 3 Ring Laser Gyros)
- GPS: Global Positioning System
- Prop: Propulsion
- ISS: International Space Station
- LoAC: Loss of Attitude Control (a big failure ADCO must know how to recover from)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Flight Control Room - 1

After three nights on the job I'm finally awake enough to tell you about it! This week I have 5 shifts from 11pm to 8am where I am completing my "hot on-the-job-training". Basically, this means I am performing the job all by myself with a certified ADCO watching over my shoulder to make sure I don't mess up or answer any last minute questions. As you can imagine working this late shift required some sleep shifting. It took two nights for me to shift over, the first night I stayed up until about 3:30am, and the second night I stayed up until about 6:30 am when Chris went to work. Then I attempted to sleep during the day...weird. Good thing I have this bum to keep me company:


Honestly, staying up all night hasn't been as hard as I thought. Granted this is only my first stab at it, but I feel awake throughout the shift and haven't had much of a problem sleeping during the day (stop laughing mom...see, my "sleep-anywhere-at-anytime" skill is coming in handy!). The strangest part is eating. I eat dinner with Chris and then I eat about halfway through my shift, but when I get home I just want to take a shower and head to bed...so I've only been eating about 2 meals a day. 

As far as the work goes, I have had plenty to do every night. In fact, the first night it looked like we were going to have to perform a burn to move the space station out of the way of some debris, but at the last minute the burn was cancelled since the debris "probability of collision" dropped significantly. Phewww...I'm glad it turned out to be a fairly uneventful night after starting off with a bang. 

During the shift we have several LOS's (loss of signal) where we lose telemetry from the ISS. It may be caused by switching which satellite we are using to relay information to the ground, or there may be a higher priority user for the satellite (we share communication satellites with other users, including the military). Usually an LOS is about 10 minutes, so it's just enough time to take a short walk and replenish your energy. Here is one of my friends from an LOS walk:


On top of all this excitement, I have also been selected to become an instructor. Eventually this means I will run simulations, dream up new failures, and deliver classroom lessons to new flight controllers and astronauts. It sounds fun, but it is a separate certification, so I have lots of training in my future still. Hope you guys had a great week!!!

Click here to see if the space station is flying over you soon!