Last Updated on Sep 02, 2020

Visit to the Mission Control Center

The plaque at the door said it all "Mission Control is the nerve center for America's manned space program. The men and women who work here have been vital to the success of every manned space flight since Gemini 4 in 1965. Today Mission Control is the hub of communication and support for the Space Shuttle from liftoff to landing. Teams of experienced engineers and technicians use sophisticated computerized equipment to monitor systems and activities aboard the Space Shuttle 24 hours a day ready for major maneuvers, schedule changes and the unexpected".


I was first taken to the VIP visitor's gallery on the first floor where through a giant glass divider. I watched scores of individuals peering at giant monitors. There were a few guests of the NASA administrator sitting in the gallery. I was pleasantly surprised when my host then took me into the sanctum sanctorum itself.

Closely Interacting with Fight Surgeons

I was introduced to two senior flight surgeons who were reviewing scores of health parameters of astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) (Fig 2)

Dr Tarver to Right and Flight Surgeons

I saw live an astronaut onboard the ISS working. It was difficult to believe that he was 400km above the earth. It was a matter of pride to see two Indians in front of the monitors. I was told that they were heads of sections responsible for planning the daily activities of the astronauts onboard the ISS. I was then introduced to a retired astronaut who was visiting. I was told that he had spent 248 days in Space. With typical American humor, he welcomed me and said "You must go there some time. The view is very good!" I was then taken to a back room where in camera tele-consults would be provided 24/7 to any particular astronaut aboard the ISS, for specific individual problems if required.

I then spent some time in the well-equipped medical clinic exclusively for the astronauts and trainee astronauts. I was personally taken around by Dr.Ronak V. Shah,(a doctor from Gujarat!) Medical Director of Clinical Services & Chief, Flight Medicine Clinic. He explained to me in detail how astronauts were evaluated pre-flight and post-flight in the clinic. The clinic also looked after the astronauts overall health concerns. I interacted with ultrasound and laboratory technicians besides three other doctors all well versed in Space Medicine. They very politely answered dozens of queries which I posed.

Human Research Programme Centre Helping Evolution of Space Medicine

I was then taken to a huge building that housed the Human Research Programme. Another Indian!! Sudhakar Rajulu, Ph.D., with the Human Health and Performance Directorate a space anthropometristpar excellence(Fig3).

Dr Rajulu his Laboratory

His forte is evaluating spinal elongation occurring due to the effect of weightlessness while orbiting, resulting in a reduced compression on the spinal column. This allows for the straightening of the natural spinal curve and the astronaut even becoming slightly taller!! The instrumentation that was available in the 10,000 + sqft lab was mind-boggling(Fig 4, 5, 6).

Simulation Studies on Anthropometric Lab

Biophysical Studies in Lab

Designing Spacesuits

Everything in Texas is of gargantuan size and JSC justifies this. (I even visited the world's largest restroom on my way to San Antonio from Houston the next day!) Dr.Rajulu made me sit in front of the equipment. Though I was suited and booted, with my digital photograph, my protein content and water content could be deducted!! (Fig.7)

The Autor being Studied

Training Area for Astronauts

I was then taken to the two main astronaut training areas. At that particular time, there were none and the rooms were all locked. Lunch was as interesting as the tour; there was a mobile van which displayed a variety of fast foods and soft drinks. The van was parked outside a very simple dining hall with basic tables and chairs. Most employees bought food and water from the van brought it inside and then disposed of the containers in appropriate colored dust bins. Later on, I learned that it was at this time there would be discussions on taking Humans to Mars!! For an outsider who lives in a world where one is often judged by the overt display of pomp and grandeur, it was a reminder that still waters run deep and empty vessels make the most noise!

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