What's Your (Call) Sign?

By Jeremy Frank, Autonomous Mission Operations Project Lead

Mission Control is usually portrayed in movies and television shows as filled with people intently staring at computer screens showing information about a spacecraft and the astronauts inside it. These people are referred to as flight controllers. Each of these flight controllers has responsibility for one part of the mission, or part of the spacecraft. The International Space Station flight control team consists of between 15 and 35 flight controllers, depending on what activities are taking place. Each of these people has a different responsibility. Perhaps the most famous of these flight control positions is the Flight Director; she or he has the responsibility to run the mission, and ensure that the crew is safe. Another well-known flight controller is the Capsule Communicator, or CapCom; this person’s responsibility is to communicate with the crew. Other flight controller responsibilities, while less well known, are equally important. One person is responsible for managing the orientation of the ISS and its orbit around the Earth; another is responsible for managing the activities of the crew, and so on. Each of these flight controllers have unique, and short, ‘call signs’ to uniquely identify them.
For the AMO project, we are conducting a much shorter ‘mission’ (2 hours, instead of 2 weeks for a typical Space Shuttle mission, or 6 months for the typical crew stay onboard the International Space Station). Our ‘spacecraft’, the Habitat Demonstration Unit, is also quite a bit simpler than either the ISS or the Space Shuttle! As a result, we created a much smaller flight control team. Even with this smaller team, we will learn a great deal about how to conduct operations in the presence of larger time delays than those experienced during any previous human spaceflight missions.
We opted to keep ‘traditional’ call-signs for the Flight Director and Capcom, but most of the other flight control responsibilities are a mix of traditional responsibilities. As a result, we chose to name our positions based on the names of Near-Earth Asteroids. These objects take their names from many different sources, so we had a lot of names to choose from! Our flight control call signs and positions are:
FLIGHT – Flight Director. In charge of the flight control team.
CAPCOM – Capsule Communicator. Responsible for communicating with the crew.
PSYCHE – Biomedical Engineer. Responsible for crew health and safety, hygiene, and medical consultation.
IRIS – Robotic systems. Responsible for external camera operation.
KALI – Operations Planner. Responsible for creating and managing daily activities of the crew.
JUNO – Spacecraft systems. Responsible for electrical power and life support.
VESTA – Mechanical systems. Responsible for onboard computers, data networks, avionics.
CERES – Payloads / Science. Responsible for geological laboratory and management of geology samples.
You can learn much more about the history of the Mission Control Center, and the job of flight controllers here.
And don’t forget to follow along with the AMO tests at www.facebook.com/nasa.amo!