Monday, August 1, 2011

My shuttle simulator experience

For many getting to try our hand at the shuttle simulator was the highlight of the NASA Tweetup (for me that honor went to seeing Mission Control, more on that later). This is the same simulator the astronauts actually trained on.  We were broken up into groups of four, and of the four a pilot was randomly chosen.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I wasn't chosen to pilot for our group.   I was able to sit back and experience what it's like to take off into space without the anxiety that went along with having to actually pilot the thing.  There are a ton of buttons and just climbing into the simulator was nerve-wracking.  Clearly, I'm not cut out to be an astronaut!

Once in the claustrophobia-inducing cockpit, we strapped ourselves into our seats with a five point harness not at all unlike a child's car seat. We put on the headset that allowed  us to communicate with "the ground" and some other equipment (it was implied that the box we wore on our chest determined whether or not we survived our landing). The sim starts out at t-minus two minutes to blast off. 

The first sensation you feel is the force of the room's gravity on your gut as the shuttle begins to point upwards, putting the crew on our backs, facing up.  Then the shaking starts.  Lots and lots of shaking.  It's fairly intense and we were told that the simulator is "less violent" than an actual take off.  As you can see in the video below I look like I'm about to toss my cookies, so again...not really astronaut material.

My name in the Shuttle Simulator Guest book.
Getting a chance to try the simulator is a pretty big deal.  It's so rare that when one does participate, NASA asks you to sign a guest book.  It was a pretty special moment to leave my mark in the book alongside the names of military personnel, special guests and celebrities like Bono and Alan Alda.  Under the "Reason for Visit" I was really tempted to write "I have no idea how I got so lucky, but thanks for having me!".  I went with the more banal "Tweetup".   How awesome is it that I can say that I am one of the last 50 people to sign the book?  I  was one of the last Americans to get to experience this part of the shuttle program first hand. We visited the simulator on a Wednesday. With the end of the shuttle program the simulator was decommissioned  that Friday.  It's off to Texas A&M where they don't have room for the hydraulics so it will live out the rest it's life as a static (non-moving) simulator.

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