What is a Flight Director?

So I described in my post from 5/8/2009 that I am the Flight Team Lead and one of the Flight Directors.  What does that mean?  Let me take a shot.


As Flight Team Lead, I’m the guy in charge of defining the “concept of operations” for LCROSS: how the LCROSS spacecraft is operated during flight, from launch through impact on the moon.  I’m also responsible for preparing the mission operations team for the mission.  I write flight procedures and flight rules (rules that protect against overstepping the capability of the spacecraft and other systems during flight), and help to plan all kinds of exercises and tests that simulate actual flight scenarios so that when we launch, the team will be totally ready.


My other role as one of two Flight Directors takes effect each time our team holds a team-wide mission test or rehearsal, and will pick up for real on launch day.  The Flight Directors are the tactical leaders of the flight team during the mission.  We’ll direct our team in planning for different events and commanding the spacecraft to do various things to accomplish its mission.  If things go wrong, we are the ones who will organize the team to correct problems, or even to try and save the mission, if need be. 


Perhaps the most famous of all Flight Directors is Gene Kranz, of Apollo program fame.  His leadership of the Mission Control Center in Houston was instrumental to the success of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, most famously in the triumphant safe return of the Apollo 13 astronauts following the equipment failure aboard their Command and Service Module.  Apollo was far grander a mission that LCROSS, but the concept of Flight Director was conceived in those early days of spaceflight, and continues now.


Perhaps most importantly, Flight Directors have to keep the “big picture” view of the mission – we need to keep in mind how everything works together, and what constraints apply at various times to keep the spacecraft safe.  If something malfunctions, we need to know how it might affect mission success, and know what to work on first to keep things running as smoothly as possible.  Think of us as conductors in an orchestra.  There are a lot of good “musicians” on our team, by analogy some playing horns, strings, woodwinds or percussion.  The Flight Director, as a conductor, has to make sure the team is “playing” together, at the right tempo, to create the “music” that gets LCROSS to impact the moon at the right spot.


I couldn’t possibly do the jobs of Flight Team Lead or Flight Director all by myself.  I work as part of a much bigger team – others developed and tested the spacecraft, conceived of the science and designed the instruments that will look for water, and managed the project budget, schedule and risk.  The Mission Operations team has the honor of flying the spacecraft that so many people have worked on.  Each team member has put in enormous numbers of hours to plan for every aspect of the flight to make it a success.   Working with them on such a fun project makes this one of the best jobs I can imagine.  I hope to introduce you to some of those other people in upcoming installments.


News from Recent Mission Operations Events:


DSN Mission Events Readiness Review (5/5): The folks at Deep Space Network did a very professional job, as always, in planning and presenting their plan of support for both LCROSS and LRO.


Launch Countdown Rehearsal (5/6):  A portion of our team spent the better part of last Wednesday rehearsing our pre-launch and early post-launch procedures, following the countdown timing as it will be for launch.  This is more complicated that it might sound.  Prior to launch, we have to determine whether all the systems – LCROSS, LRO, the launch vehicle, the ground antennas, and the people are all ready for launch.  Each system representative has to give their “GO” or “NO-GO” status, just like in the movies.  We communicated over our “voice loops”, with people and Kennedy Space Center (our launch site) relaying simulated data to us before and after the simulated liftoff.  We carried on for five hours after the launch time, past when our spacecraft would be on its way to the moon. 


Even though this was all make-believe, the simulation was realistic enough to send chills down our spines.  It was very easy to imagine how we’ll feel on the big day!


Upcoming Mission Operations Events:


First Week Rehearsal (5/27 through 6/1): Our team will rehearse the entire first week of operations, beginning with launch.  We’ve been rehearsing various mission phases for the past year, but none of these tests have been more than 2-3 days long.  For this test, just as during the mission, we’ll be operating around the clock, with all the events occurring at precisely the same times of day as they will in flight.  This is a test of nearly everything we’ve developed, and of our team’s ability to endure a week of long, possibly stressful days.

3 thoughts on “What is a Flight Director?”

  1. “Failure is not now…nor will it ever be…an option!”

    …from a speech to be given after the successful conclusion of the STS program.

  2. I want to be a Flight Director when I grow uo and I found this infomation very usful.Thank you. I had never even heard of LCROSS before I think these missions are extreamly intersting. Good luck with the missions and hopefully we (or should I say you guys in the LCROSS missions) will find water on the moon soon! Thank you for posting this blog it has introduce me to a new world… THANKS! =)


Comments are closed.