Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ad astra per aspera

"A rough road leads to the stars."


48 years ago today, they climbed into the command module perched atop a Saturn IB rocket. 

It was just a test. 

In a coincidental twist of fate I found myself in almost the same place as those flight controllers 48 years ago - in a test, or a "sim" in NASA speak. No, we weren't preparing a crew for launch, but we were sustaining 6 crewmembers in concert with our European Space Agency partners. As the simulation models spooled up all of the players gathered on the loops for a prebrief. 

"COL Flight, Houston Flight on ISS AFD 2." No response.

"COL Flight, Houston Flight on ISS AFD 2." Again, no response. 

"Houston Flight, COL Flight on ISS FD 2, we are not hearing you on ISS AFD 2."

I couldn't help but think back to the Apollo 1 plugs out test. After some communication problems between the operations and checkout building and launch complex 34 Gus Grissom remarked, "How are we going to get to the Moon if we can’t talk between three buildings?" 

Today's sim was eerily similar. I was just waiting for, "How can we fly a multi-billion dollar International Space Station if we can't even talk across continents?!"

The Flight Director called on communication specialists to rectify the situation, and eventually we established good comm on all the voice loops, including between Houston and Munich. I guess talking between continents seems much more benign than talking to the crew about to launch on a spacecraft's first test flight. 

But here's the thing about space: it's hard, sometimes unpredictable, incredibly unforgiving. It was in 1967 when Grissom, White, and Chaffee suited up for a plugs out test, and it is now, when international crewmembers meet together on the most complex machine ever built. It's an amazingly rewarding job, but the margin for error is infinitesimally small. It requires the right words, the right decision, the right coordination, the right diligence, the right forward plan, all at the right time. No room for "oopsies" or "takebacks" in this business. 

As much as I cringe on sim days (because I know my brain is going to be working in overdrive), I always feel a sense of relief afterwards. I always learn something, I always see something I didn't expect to happen, and I always feel accomplished that I was able to maintain calm and push through the (sometimes unrealistic) number of failures. I always had a profound respect for the men and women in mission control, but now that I'm here I realize that respect is just the tip of the iceberg. We all practice so much for the worst possible scenarios, and so much is required to be a "certified" flight controller. 

I had no idea it would be this hard - but I'm glad it is. 

Here I am after today's sim, manning the "HAWKI" console. 2 mice, 2 keyboards, and 6 monitors. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

New Space Books in the New Year!

Since the holidays are over and I'm finally settling in to 2015, it's time for another "Space Publication Critical Evaluation" or SP[A]CE. I'm reviewing two books today, both about space, but each exploring a very different topic.



New Space Frontiers by Piers Bizony

The subtitle of this book is "Venturing Into Earth Orbit and Beyond". I tried to like this book, I really did. You may notice the now [maybe] defunct Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser gracing the cover, and with the recent commercial crew decision which choose the Boeing and SpaceX designs over Sierra Nevada it points to the need for timeliness in publications about vehicle designs. In my opinion, real-time discussions about space vehicles and such should be just that - real time, not hard cover books with pretty dust jackets at a price of $35. Consumers who are interested in this information are looking for internet articles and maybe timely magazine articles, not already out-of-date coffee table books.

That being said, after chapter 1 the book moves in a different direction. Subsequent chapters lay out ideas about civilian space stations, moon bases, and interplanetary adventures - the details of which may be a little far fetched, but content that is more suited for longer term audiences. Some of these ideas would make great elementary or junior high "space report" references.

The book does contain some great photographs and graphics of future space endeavors, and the layout makes for easy reading or browsing. I felt compelled to sign my copy and hand it off to a high schooler gearing up to enter engineering school - maybe it will provide some motivation for her in the coming years.

New Space Frontiers receives 2/5 stars overall, 5/5 Hubble Space Telescopes for pretty pictures and engaging layouts, and 2/5 orbital mechanics equations for lack of timeliness and hard science.



The Art of Space by Ron Miller

First impression: what a neat book! To be honest, I would never have picked this book up for myself. I'm really no artist, and generally prefer to study real pictures to better understand new discoveries or detailed space missions. Sadly, I would have missed out on an amazing experience.

When you sit down with a book like this hard science goes out the window because it has to. But allowing yourself to temporarily suspend that innate need for accurate depictions enables you to get more "feels" from space. Not surprisingly, my favorite pieces in the book were pictures that included astronauts and/or cosmonauts or were created by them. I especially loved a piece by Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov depicting three cosmonaut shapes approaching the rocket that will take them to space. He's quoted in the book, "The start of the cosmic trip is one of the most intense moments. They are the last minutes on the earth before a long flight." The three silhouettes are looking up in awe at their rocket bathed in light. In that moment man and machine meet with an uneasy, but required trust.

Overall I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book, and I think it is a great addition to any space nerd's collection. Sometimes art can tell stories words can't.

The Art of Space receives a solid 4/5 stars overall, 5/5 Hubble Space Telescopes for amazing interpretations of astronauts and space, and -/- orbital mechanics equations because art doesn't give a crap about orbital mechanics equations.


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Full Disclosure: I was provided with review copies of The Art of Space and New Space Frontiers from Zenith Press. Also, these reviews are entirely my opinion, feel free to make your own! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Recent Diabetes Decision

"Hey mom, I have something I want to talk over with you."

For some reason I default to my mom when I have Diabetes related decisions to make. She is logical, Diabetes knowledgeable and easy to talk to. And after mulling over the pros and cons of "upgrading" (you'll see why I used quotation marks there later) I decided to call her and discuss. 

The pump in question: "upgrading" from the Animas Ping to the recently-FDA-approved Animas Vibe System. Currently, I use an Animas One Touch Ping insulin pump combined with a Dexcom G4 system (recently upgraded with the new 505 software). This means I have two "devices" (pump + CGM receiver) and two sites (things stuck to my skin, inserted with needles, yuck). The new Animas Vibe system combines the pump and CGM receiver into one unit while still requiring separate "sites". I put together a little graphic showing the pros/cons of each system that were most important to me. 


This may sound dumb, but the biggest issues I saw with the new Animas Vibe system were (1) no remote receiver (other than the Dexcom receiver I already have, both the pump and Dexcom receiver can be active at the same time), and (2) no ability to upgrade to Dexcom's new CGM software algorithm. I normally wear my insulin pump "hidden" under clothes, so the new system really provides no benefit when the CGM data is not easily accessed. I will admit I miss the "smart" bolus feature (I don't know if that's the right terminology) from my Medtronic pump, but having it available on the Vibe system is not enough to sway me.

Much to my Diabetes Educator's dismay, I have decided to stick the Animas One Touch Ping course until my warranty runs out (about 2 more years), hopefully there will be advancements in that time that give me reason to switch to a different system. Also, I'm still dying for a CGM watch, just saying. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

NASA in 2015

First NASA update of 2015!!

Ok, so as you all know, I am patiently waiting my turn to officially start integrated simulations. I'm done, done, done with the mini simulations and I'm ready, ready, ready to get my feet wet in the "big room". Unfortunately there are only 1 or 2 integrated simulation runs per week, so I have to wait until one of the other guys is complete (which keeps getting pushed back, now looking like mid-Feb). It usually takes 8-12 integrated simulations to get certified, so I am looking at around 3-ish months of simulation time once I actually start...ugh, so frustrating. 

Ok / rant over. 

I'm trying to think positive thoughts like, "Let them get certified first so they have to work more late night shifts," or "Wait until the summer when its warmer out at midnight." But its hard to stay motivated when you are just sitting in this holding pattern. 

I keep reminding myself that even if I'm not a certified ADCO yet, I still have a pretty cool job. I get to hang out at NASA with lots of smart people, OJT (on-the-job-train) during complex ops like dockings or EVAs (spacewalks), help create new lessons for future ADCOs, and mentor the new classes coming in. It's fun to be in a place where I can openly watch NASA TV on my work computer and where taking time out to watch launches is encouraged. I still run into plenty of astronauts and get to practice my backroom skills as "Hawki" (Hawki is the call sign of our backroom, similar to how ADCO is the call sign for the front room). 

But most of all I just love the "buzz" around this place. There are always people in these halls and there are always controllers in FCR-1. There are always astronauts up in space and plenty around JSC getting ready for their turn. There are lectures and presentations, failure meetings and planning meetings. There's always an open seat in the FCR-1 viewing room for space nerds like me who just like the "feels" they get sitting face to face with the room that controls a multi-billion dollar, multi-nation asset, with brave people on board! 

All of these things help to keep me motivated. Truly they all hearken back to my kindergarten yearning to be an astronaut and to someday work at NASA. I have to keep pinching myself that this is really where I am...I have [just about] made it! 

Checking out the new room I will be simming in. Mission Control is upgrading their workstations, so there will be some room shuffling in the next few months. I will be simming out of this room, the White FCR, for a few months, then this will become the actual ISS mission control room for a few months while the old one gets renovated and upgraded. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Wiener Dog Toast!


Will noshing on wiener dog toast cure Diabetes? Probably not, but a girl can hope. 

I can't really remember a "special" New Years before...when I was a kid my dad often had to work so it meant we didn't stay up until midnight, or if we did we had to be extra quiet. New Years always seemed like just an 'ehh' holiday to me. I can't say this year was much different, but Chris made the most delicious New Years day brunch, and I juiced some Arizona oranges and tangerines for a tasty mimosa! It was simple, but I loved it! 

Maybe this is what I will try to focus on this year: simplicity. 
I want to find happiness somewhere in each day. 
And appreciate the little things...wiener dog toast included. 




Monday, December 29, 2014

A Christmas Space Adventure



Space adventures don't always have to be elaborate...sometimes they are as simple and pleasant as a trip home to the Rocket City: Huntsville, AL. I'm thankful to feel so welcomed as a part of my husband's family. They are silly, respectful, sweet, a little redneck, and absolutely a joy to hang out with. We have fun playing board games, eating amazing food, and snuggling with pets. Us "kids" like to make fun of the adults and drive them a little bonkers with our energy (but secretly, I don't think they would want us any other way). And the fun didn't stop in Huntsville, Chris and I stole his brother Michael for a week of excitement here in Texas (read: most likely sitting around like XBox 360 Zombies)!



 
I even got to meet up with my old work "family". Seriously - these guys are the most amazing friends!! Of course we had to enjoy a beer or two downtown! And the one on the left just had a baby...a really cuuutee, precious early Christmas gift! The one on the right...well, he's old enough to retire! Haha, love you Tracy!



 
I hope your Christmas was all that you wanted it to be! I'm looking forward to a great 2015...more space adventures and hopefully finishing up my certification at NASA!!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Nerdy Christmas

A virtual tree full of nerdy goodies...

Astro Snowman is styling in his Christmas package shaped Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) and earmuff shaped communications unit. I hope he doesn't "melt" under the pressure of performing a space walk!

Ms. Violet is on her way to Mars in the "Mars Express". She is setting out to bring Christmas joy to alien worlds!

Santa pilots the "Super Apollo". I hear it has 7.5 million reindeer power. 

It may sound silly, but this blog has been an amazing gift. Sharing and collecting these life stories with all of you, my beautiful readers, has brought us into this virtual relationship...a connection through words and mostly crappy pictures.

I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate your presence here, in this obscure Diabetes infused, space-themed corner of the interwebs. Your comments on the posts and the little blog shout outs I received on so many family Christmas cards truly means the world to me. I'm lucky that my life is full of so much good, and that by sharing it through this medium I have been able to impact others dreams and goals. I just want to reach through your screen right now and give you all a great big hug for all your support and love. 

I hope you have an amazing holiday season! It may be my last year without a Mission Control shift, so I am soaking it up!