Spacecraft operators are essential to the success of any space mission. From launching the spacecraft to ensuring that it is running correctly, they efficiently diagnose and solving any problems that occur. They guide and control space flight from their control centres. For example, NASA’s Mission Control centre or ESA Operations Station.
What would you be doing?
Spacecraft operators, or 'flight controllers' monitor the technical aspects of live space missions through telemetry. Each controller is an expert in a specific area, but they all come together with strong communication to control the mission. There is a constant stream of communication between all controllers, the lead controllers, the ‘backroom’ engineers, other mission control rooms, and the astronauts. The flight director leads flight controllers and monitors the activities of the team. The team is responsible for the safety and success of the astronauts and mission.
What does a typical day involve?
A mission control team has about five people who work on a particular role, who work for 9-hour shifts on rotation. It involves a lot of planning, organisation, controlling, and executing operations on the missions.
Skills needed -- What type of skills or qualifications are needed?
As each role in the operation team is so specific, there are many required qualifications in order to differentiate yourself into your job. One would first have an engineering or technical degree to gain a specific technical discipline based on background and interest. There are many skills that do not require a degree, such as flexibility. One needs to have a fast reaction time to sudden and unexpected moments in order to respond to the situation. One also requires technical skills, communication, interpersonal skills, and team management. They must shift through the complexity, evaluate situation and options, and overcome the intimidation and fear.
The leader of the team. Makes final decisions regarding safety, payload operations, and monitors the other flight controllers through loops of intercom channels.
Flight Operations Director
Assists flight directors to make decisions in relation to cost and public relations.
Communicates with the spacecraft, directly with the crew. It is crucial that communication with the astronauts goes through one person rather than the whole mission control team. ‘CAPCOM’ if usually another astronaut.
Monitors medical aspects of the mission.
Responsible for the telemetry and directs operation and maintenance activities.
Public Affairs Officer
Provides commentary regarding the mission to the public.
Flight Dynamics Officer
Monitors and manoeuvres trajectories.
Propulsion Engineer Monitor
Controls reaction and manoeuvres orbital propellants.
Guidance, Navigation and Controls System Engineer
Monitors navigational systems.
Interview / Industry leaders --Who are some key people in the industry?
Chris Craft- A NASA aerospace engineer that created the concept of mission control team and developed its organization, operational procedures, and thereby its culture.
Gene Kranz - NASA’s flight director through the Gemini and Apollo missions
Mark S. Geyer- current Johnson Space Center Flight director
Online resources -- Where can I get some more information?