Station Flight Controller Talks to Pennsylvania High School Students

>> Good morning Welcome to Mission Control Center here in Houston Were’ in the International Space Station Flight Control Room And I have one of our International Space Station Flight Controllers with us, Joe Pascucci who is a Trajectory Operations Officer I had trouble with the word for some reason Joe, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you do >> Sure. Just in short my job is know where the Space Station is and make sure that it is in the right place in the future For it to be ready to do anything that we need it to do And to protect it from any debris in space And make sure the astronauts on board stay safe >> Great. That’s important stuff >> Yes >> And now we have students in Pennsylvania AP students who are going to ask us some questions So go ahead >>Hi. My name is Lee Ann I had a question regarding the Flight Controller’s duty of monitoring the location of jettison items in space Which are the items that people intentionally throw away during the extra-vehicular activity I was wondering what types of items are typically thrown away and if that poses a greater risk for space debris later on >> That’s a great question And it’s actually one of the things I deal with a lot So there’s a number of things that we throw away During EVA’s a lot of times crew will jettison items that are not safe to bring back inside Or maybe will not fit through the hatch to go back inside Or there’s no place to store them outside of the space station, and they need to be gotten rid of So when those things are thrown away, they do move away And we always make sure that they will be safe relative to the space station And because there actually is an atmosphere still in the area of the space station, the atmosphere actually drags them down and eventually they re-enter So we keep track of them through our relationship with the Air Force who keeps track of all of those objects in space And we make sure that they will not pose a safety risk to the ISS >> Thank you >>Next question >> The TOPO Flight Controller is responsible for informing universities and companies that have research cargo avoid the ISS with updates on its location What types of research cargo are typically brought aboard? >Well, the last question was about jettisons And one of the other things that we jettison, or I prefer to say is deploy, is payloads So there’s been a number of small cubesats that have been built either by countries or universities that have been deployed by the ISS The most recent ones were deployed a few weeks ago We deployed four cubesats from a deployer that was built by our international partner, JAXA We provide trajectory information for those payloads Also there’s a number of payloads that are onboard that have like cameras and stuff that are looking down at the earth And our trajectory information is used in conjunction with those cameras and stuff To make sure they are pointing at the things that they’re interested in seeing Or letting them know what they saw as they flew over the earth and were observing the earth >> Thank you >> Next question >> Hi. I’m Melissa and one of the questions I wanted to know was how is trajectory used every day at NASA? >> Well, without the trajectory we wouldn’t have a space station because we need to be in orbit to do our jobs [chuckles] But the main thing that we do – we are constantly monitoring where the ISS is We need to keep track of when the sun is going to rise and going to set so that we generate the power that we need And we keep the ISS the temperature that it needs to be And we need to keep track of where our communication satellites are so that we have constant or near constant communication with the ground To Mission Control and the control centers around the world >> And my next question was what is the worst-case scenario if a shuttle, part of the ISS is launched at a wrong angle? >> So I guess I’ll take that question in two parts If something was launched at the right time and the right direction but at the wrong angle, the worst thing is it could not make it into orbit The other part, would, getting a little more technical, would be if you launched something into orbit but you didn’t do it at the right time, you could put yourself in a position to be in an orbit that you couldn’t actually get to the ISS Because once you’re in space, in order to move the orbit around takes a lot of energy And there usually is not enough energy on board a vehicle to be in the wrong place at the wrong time >> Can I ask a questions real quick? Has that ever happened before? >> In terms of the US Space Program

or the Russian Space Program, I don’t believe we’ve ever launched into orbit and not been able to successfully complete a rendezvous >> I imagine that would be hard with all the safeguards Sorry. Go ahead The next question >> Thank you >> Hi. My name’s Christine What type of degree does a Trajectory Operations Officer need? >> Most of all of the TOPO’s have degrees in engineering of some kind I have a degree in aerospace engineering There are some other TOPO’s who have degrees in mechanical engineering or mathematics >> Okay. Thank you And I have another question If you were told as a child that you would work for NASA in Mission Control when you grew up, how would you have reacted? >> I think I would have been extremely excited I have a very old picture from when I was probably 7 years old of me playing with a space shuttle >> That’s nice Thank you >> Good afternoon My name’s Matt The question I have for you today is have there any living organisms been found in outer space? >> I’m not the best person to answer that question But I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of that >> I think that’s right I think we haven’t found any living organisms that we didn’t put there anyway >> All right Thank you very much > Hi. My name’s Adam And I was just wondering how often do you have to change the direction of the space station? And how often is that because of debris from NASA missions? >> I don’t have the answer for how often it’s specifically debris from NASA missions In general, the space station has been maneuvered about once per year due to debris in space that we’re trying to get away from As a normal part of our process of making sure the space station is going to be in the right place at the right time for all of the trajectory events that we have, we usually do – we call them reboosts – about once a month We actually just performed a reboost yesterday And we’re planning on performing another one tomorrow >>Thank you >> Hey. My name’s Morgan and my two questions have to deal with space in general rather than the space station But I was wonder if there’s any way of knowing of anything beyond our universe? >> I don’t know that I’m the right person to ask that question to That seems like a question for a theoretical physicist >> I think we’ve got a lot of different things like the Hubble Space Telescope and we’re getting ready to launch something called the James Webb Space Telescope that give us just that kind of information They can look far beyond, you know, what we’re able to see from here on earth And give us all kinds of information about our universe Where it came from; how it started; things like that So there’s lots of information online at if you want to go look that up >> All right Awesome. Thanks And is space infinite or does it have an end? >> That’s another that would be really hard for me to answer [laughter] Sorry >> It’s okay Thank you [laughs] >> [laughs] Next question >> Hello again The question that I want to ask is [laughter] what is the future plans for the ISS and NASA? >> Well, so we’ve got a lot of things going on at NASA Here in the Human Space Flight Program, which is basically where we work and know the most about, we’ve got a few different things going on First of all, of course, there’s the International Space Station where we have people living 24, 7 and have had for more than a decade That’s going on right now They’re doing a lot of really cool research And you can find out more about that at slash station Meanwhile, we’re also working with commercial companies to develop new vehicles to take cargo and people up to the space station And letting those commercial companies come take over that gives us the ability to focus more on future missions Which we are building the Orion spacecraft for That’s going to be launching, actually, on its first mission next year It’s going to be un-crew There won’t be people on it for this first time But it’s going to go actually about 15 times farther than the International Space Station orbits And farther than any spacecraft built for human has been in 40 years So that’s called the Exploration Flight Test-1 And it’s scheduled for next fall So you should definitely pay attention to that And then we’ll be doing one more flight test with the Space Launch System, which NASA’s building It’s a new rocket that’s going to let us launch Orion out of low earth orbit The low earth orbit is where the space station is and where the space shuttle flew as well So it’s been awhile since we’ve had people outside of low earth orbit And we’re really excited about that That’s going to be in 2017 And then in 2021 we’ll be able

to send people onboard Orion outside of low earth orbit for the first time So l lots of cool stuff coming up >> Oh, wow That’s really cool Thank you >> Hello. My name is Madison And I was wondering what type of interaction do you have with the other countries involved with the ISS? >> We actually have quite a bit of interaction with the other countries involved Course, a major part of managing our trajectory is performing maneuvers or reboosts like I said earlier And the propulsion system on the ISS is actually in the Russian segment So we have a very close relationship with our counterparts in Russia And also we have visiting vehicles that come from the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency The ATV and HTV Plus commercial partners that are now sending vehicles to the ISS So we have relationships with all of them with their visiting vehicles to make sure that we can support them successfully >> Okay. Thank you >> Hello. My name’s Emily I was wondering if NASA if currently searching for new planets and solar systems that can sustain human life And has NASA found any so far? >> NASA does have some various instruments that are looking for exactly that sort of thing And I think I just recently had announced about a new, earth-like planet that we found That’s another thing that probably we’re not the best people to tell you about But there’s lots of good information on >> Okay. Thank you >> Hello again I’m backtracking a little bit But I was wondering if reboosts are performed manually by the people aboard the ISS or if you guys manage them? >> We actually manage them from the ground So the crew is aware of when they’re going to happen But there’s actually no crew involvement necessary For reboosts, as a matter of fact, there have been times when reboosts have been performed while the crew is sleeping And the acceleration is so low that the crew doesn’t even realize it’s going on There are some great videos that you can find on YouTube that the crews have done of what it’s like to be on board the ISS during a reboost >> Thank you >> Hi. My name’s Kana [assumed spelling] And my question is what are some of the things NASA is doing to make travel time to other planets quicker? >> Well, we travel to another planet is going to take a long time at least for the foreseeable future It’s not a quick process But what we’re doing is we’re building spacecrafts that will support the crew over that long journey Not just necessarily a spacecraft even If we went to Mars we need not only the Orion Capsule that we’re building that I mentioned earlier But also a habitat for the crew to live in to give them a little more space to move around Because it can be several months to get to, just for instance, Mars, which is the closet planet for us >> Thank you >> How long does it take for the ISS to recharge like under the sun’s rays? >> The solar rays? >> Yeah. The solar rays So as the ISS passes into daylight it always has its solar rays tracking– >> Got a picture of the solar rays here >> — and pointing at the sun So, that’s okay So at there are certain times where we actually need to stop moving with solar rays Say when a vehicle is approaching or departing the ISS Or for other reasons that essentially Because we’re not tracking the sun We’re not charging batteries as efficiently as they could be charged And the ISS can stay in that condition for a fair amount of time I think at least an orbit or two before it needs to be pointing its rays back at the sun to maintain charging the batteries >> Thank you >> And an orbit takes about 90 minutes So >> Yeah. One orbit of the earth is about 92 minutes >> Hello. My name is Shannon And I wanted to know if you knew about any asteroids or comets that could impact the path of the ISS in the near future? >> I am not aware of any comets or asteroids that we’re concerned about The main thing that we are constantly tracking is the stuff that people have put in space that threaten the ISS And we’re watching for that stuff all the time

>> Thank you >> Hi. I’m Markice [assumed spelling] And what happened to Apollo 18, 19, and 20? >> Those would be the Apollo missions that were never flown >> Right. Those – we cancelled those missions so we could go ahead and get started on work for the space shuttle Which then went on to fly for 30 years and help us build the space station >> Okay. And I have another question [laughter] When is NASA planning on landing on Mars and what will the role of the TOPO be? >> Oh, okay So NASA plans – I think we would be going to Mars in probably the 2030s are our thoughts at this point And as for what the TOPO would do, that would probably be a question for you >> So the role of the TOPO would be to manage the trajectory to get us to Mars To make sure that we were flying a safe trajectory and the most efficient trajectory that we could follow >> Okay. Thank you Hi. My name is Monica And have there been recent discoveries of UFOs or suspicious objects? And with our current technology, how easy is it for NASA to define these objects? >> Suspicious objects? I don’t think I’ve heard of any suspicious objects that have been found We, obviously, keep an eye on a lot of different things in space and in the universe But I haven’t heard of anything that’s suspicious >> And I would agree with that >> Okay. Thank you >> Hello. I have a question The International Space Station is constantly falling And because of this, do astronauts on the ISS have the constant feeling of weightlessness while on the space station? Like feeling of weightlessness like on a rollercoaster? >> Yes. They do have the constant feeling of weightlessness while they’re in orbit And, as a matter of fact, as long as they stay near the center of ISS, they’re in an area that we refer to as the microgravity envelope Where it truly does feel like there’s no gravity There’s actually – you can move away from the center of the ISS and actually begin to see the effects of the fact that you actually still are in a gravity field >> Okay. Thank you >> Hello again I was wondering what is the protocol if or when the ISS gets hits with debris? >> That’s a great question I’ll start with not letting it get hit with debris So we’re constantly monitoring through our relationship with the Air Force all of the debris that’s in space and whether or not it’s a threat to the ISS And if we do find debris that is a threat to the ISS, we begin planning to move the ISS to make sure that debris is not a threat If something were to happen that we were not able to move the ISS in time or we found out too late, we do have procedures in place to shelter the crew in the two Soyuz vehicles onboard the ISS Which are the – well, it’s the vehicles that they use to get to the ISS But they would be also their emergency escape vehicles to get away from the ISS And they do that and they’re, essentially, ready to undock and leave the ISS if it were to get hit by debris in an emergency >>Okay. Thank you >> When will the Robonaut 2 be finished? And when what will it be able to do? >> Unfortunately, I have to turn to you to answer– >> I can handle a little bit about that one >> — questions about Robonaut >> So you may have heard that just this week we announced that Robonaut, which has been on the space station since STS-133 is going to be getting some legs sent up on a future space vehicle that’s going up in February So that’ll get it a little farther along on the journey As far as being really complete, you know, Robonaut’s kind of a test project So I don’t know that there’s a point where you really say it’s complete We’ll probably keep sending up changes and new ideas to try out and then see what we end up with >> Okay. Thank you

>> How do learn to deal with the stress of Mission Control? >> Is it stressful here? >> It can be a little stressful sometimes Well, it’s a matter of learning and knowing about yourself and how you deal with that stress It’s– >>What’s the most stress – I’m sorry >> Go ahead >> What’s the most stressful you’ve ever experienced in Mission Control and with trajectory? >> I’d say the most stressful experiences I’ve had here in Mission Control since I’ve been working on the space station as a TOPO have been the times when there is a piece of debris threatening the ISS that we are monitoring And whether or not we’re actually going to maneuver the ISS to get away from it >> And it’s probably different for different positions in the flight control team; right? Spacewalk Officer might say the spacewalk is the most stressful time Or for a public affairs person like me is when I’m trying to talk about something that’s really complicated So I guess it just depends on what you’re doing >> I would agree That’s probably very true >>And probably about the same for every job There’s times that are exciting And it’s kind of what you like about the job But they’re a little stressful too >> Yesterday the cooling capacitor – something went wrong with it Is there any new news that you can tell me about that? >> Sure. I can take that So like you said, we have two cooling lifts, actually, on the space station And one of them had a problem yesterday that caused it to shut down And so the teams here on the ground have been working real hard to figure out what exactly caused the shutdown And what they’re going to do to fix it So there’s still a lot of work going on to determine what the next steps are But people are working pretty hard And in the meantime the crew is doing just fine on board the space station They’ve got several things that they’re able to work on today while they wait for the team here on the ground to work through that >> Okay. Thank you And what are hours for working in Mission Control? >> The hours can be anything that is required For my counsel, specifically, we normally work daytime hours only And then when we’re required for overnight or evening shifts we come and take care of that We’re also on call 24 hours a day Again, associated with protecting the ISS from debris in space >> But the space station crew actually gets up at midnight central time So they’ll have to be teams in here to help them for that in the middle of the night for us, which is just the beginning of their morning And we actually have three different teams that overlap by an hour And so each of their shifts are nine hours apiece And so the first one comes in and stays for nine hours And for the last hour they’re handing over to somebody who’s taking their place and telling them what’s been going on >>Okay. Thank you >> Hi. I have one more question I was wondering what type of software or technology you use to do your job on a daily basis? >> So we have several pieces of software that we use to do analysis on the ISS trajectory Most of them have been built in house at NASA Some are specialized for working in the control room They’re specialized to be fast and allow us to perform computations very quickly with like a reasonable level of accuracy to do things in the immediate future We have other higher fidelity software that is slower and takes more time to run that we use off console when doing precise analysis >> Okay. Thank you >> What was your favorite subject in high school? >> In high school I would say I recall my favorite subject being physics >> Okay >> Probably followed by chemistry >> This will be the last question >>Okay. What was the highest level math you’ve ever taken? >> The highest level math was just referred to as engineering mathematics But that would be a class above differential equations >> Okay. Thank you >> Thanks so much, guys We really appreciate your questions And, again, we enjoyed answering them And you should check out for more information on some of the things we were able to fill you incompletely on Thanks again And this is Mission Control, Houston