July 13, 2007
After a presentation about Lockheed Martin’s contribution to the Crew Exploration Vehicle, we took a look at a mock-up of the crew capsule and took turns flying a simulation of docking the CEV to the space station. Five of us sat (on our backs) in the chairs in the crew module while the others tried the simulation, then we switched.
The crew module is going to have spots for six collapsible seats—four for trips to the moon and six for trips to the space station. The two top center seats have windows and four touch-controlled screens. For us, the screens showed the simulation going on in the other room, and the on-screen buttons let us see different views of our fellow RAs crashing or docking. Through the windows was the dark, high ceiling of the warehouse that stored the mock-up, with a lamp that looked like the moon hanging over us.
As we sat there, a Lockheed employee and Academy alum named Heather Hava described what we would experience during a mission to the moon: where the chairs would go, where we would sleep, what we would eat, where the toilet would be, where the hatch to the lunar lander was, and how the final landing on Earth would work. We rotated seats at certain points so that everyone got to sit in one of the two pilot’s seats with the screens and windows. Michael and Heather debated whether Apollo’s plastic bags were a better idea than the CEV’s heavy, expensive, sanity-saving toilet.
The simulation had two seats and two screens, but we only used one seat and one joystick to control the CEV and dock. We had to hold the trigger on the joystick to stay in translation mode and not rotate the vehicle out of alignment with the space station. Left, right, forward, and back on the joystick meant just that, but up and down were clockwise and counterclockwise twists on the joystick. There was a green heads-up display with a little circle at the center, which we had to align with the black crosshairs on the space station’s docking port by the time we reached the port.
We had to be within 0.01 (feet, I believe) of the target for docking to be successful. Some of us made it, some of us didn’t, and some of us made it accidentally, swerving around wildly on the final approach. There was a model of the CEV next to where we sat, and its thrusters lit up as we used them so that the people not playing at the time could see which thrusters were used to do what. Short bursts are more controllable, with a burst in the opposite direction to stop yourself, but the most important thing is not to panic, or to obsess over mistakes if you’re an astronaut who just needs to train some more.