Shuttle Mission Control

Marianne Dyson, April 2021

After a year-long hiatus during the COVID crisis, Science Snacks is back! Hopefully, you are ready for some geeky stories because I used my “shut-in” time to finish a new book, Shuttle Mission Control: Flight Controller Stories and Photos, 1981-1992.

Cover Design by Lindsey Cousins. Black and white photo is of the author, FAO Marianne J. Dyson, and her husband Guidance Officer Thornton E (Thor/Ted) Dyson who were the first married couple in the “front room” of Mission Control during the fourth Space Shuttle flight which landed on July 4, 1982. NASA photo S82-36159 by Pat Patnesky. The Dysons were both at consoles in Mission Control when Space Shuttle Columbia launched on April 12, 1981. The external tank was painted white only for the first and second launches. NASA/KSC photo.

The book showcases twenty first-person accounts, illustrated with 150 images, of Space Shuttle controllers solving problems from dangerous pressure readings to the capture of slippery satellites. Why did I self-publish this book instead of going with a traditional trade house? Why did it take me 30 years to get it done?! I explain in my Author’s Note, excerpted from the book:

Begin Excerpt

While sorting materials for donation to the Johnson Space Center Archive at UHCL, I came across a manuscript I wrote nearly thirty years ago, titled Shuttle Mission Control.

I was in a unique position to write that story. I had the privilege of serving as a flight controller for the first five Space Transportation System (STS) flights. I had joined NASA in 1979, coming in on the “ground floor” of the Shuttle Program. Six years and five flights later, I still loved my job, but with a husband who was also a flight controller, and no affordable childcare for unpredictable all-night shifts, I decided to find a more “normal” job until our children were older. Hernandez Engineering offered a perfect parttime position helping “customers” fly their experiments on the Shuttle and prepare for Space Station Freedom.

I was excited to be part of the commercial space era!

But the Challenger accident in 1986 changed everything. Commercial and military use of the Shuttle stopped. Freedom was subsumed into the Shuttle/Mir Program (announced in 1992) and morphed into the International Space Station. I pivoted from working in the space program to writing about it. In the decades since, I’ve won top awards for my children’s books, coauthored books with Buzz Aldrin, and educated hundreds of thousands of people about space via writing and speaking. I documented my person story in my memoir, A Passion for Space: Adventures of a Pioneering Female NASA Flight Controller (Springer, 2015). But the stories I collected from other controllers in 1992 remain mostly untold.

I drafted Shuttle Mission Control in 1990-92 when books were printed on paper and sold in bookstores. My agent and I collected a stack of rejection letters calling it too “narrowly focused” to sell enough copies to make publishers a profit. So the book languished in my closet all this time. Now, armed with decades of experience in publishing, no longer required to satisfy some gatekeeper’s profit margin, and with the help of my writing community (special thanks to Tom and Lindsey!), I am publishing it myself.

Scanning, color-correcting, and cropping faded photos and slides proved difficult, as was reformatting/merging old text files (from 5.25” floppy disks!) and typing hand-written lists (sorry if some names are misspelled!) into a modern document. Tracking down interview subjects (sadly, at least one has died) allowed me to add (thanks, Paul!) some “where they are now” information. I also added updated the Flight Control Room data and positions, replaced/supplemented drawings with photos, and enhanced the NASA-provided generic captions with names of flight controllers pictured (thanks, Space Hipsters!).

One of the old (rare) slides that I scanned for the book. Shown here are employees of Bingswanger Glass, the company who made the original 10-by-20-foot screens, replacing the old with the new in 1990. The new screens were 800 pounds heavier but had better optical properties and could be easily washed. NASA Photo S9026138.

To the lists of the first flight controllers to work each Shuttle “front room” position from STS-1 in April 1981 through STS-39 (the 40th flight, in April 1991), I added what data I could uncover about the first women/minorities using photos, contacts, and the Manned Spaceflight Operations Association (www.mannedspaceops.org) manning lists (thanks, Bill!). Flight Director Bob Castle supplied the list of flight controllers honored to hang the mission plaque after each Shuttle flight (thanks, Bob!).

The original photos/slides, references, and manuscript of Shuttle Mission Control will be donated to the NASA JSC Archive at UHCL in Houston. Proceeds from sales of this book will be donated organizations and museums to help preserve more of the history of Mission Control.

End Excerpt

So I hope you will get a copy of this book (autographed via my Book Orders page, or print/eBook via Amazon) for your geek-reading pleasure, or perhaps for a young person who could use some inspiration for choosing a STEM career. And if you enjoy the book and want to support capturing and preserving more NASA history, I’d sure appreciate some reviews on Amazon and sharing of links via social media. With no publisher backing me, the encouragement and support of friends means the world to me!

Writing about Space

Hey teachers and space enthusiasts: a welcome distraction and hours of fun for all ages: Dyson’s Space Puzzles. Ten original space-themed puzzles and their solutions to download and print out for only $1.00.

My short story and poetry eBook collection are full of stories with thoughtful/hopeful endings and are appropriate for younger readers (rated “PG”). I hope Fly Me to the Moon and Space Poems provide some pleasant reading for you!

Speaking about Space

I am now fully vaccinated and willing to do in-person author visits with appropriate distancing guidelines. I also offer virtual author visits. See details on the Author Visits tab of my website.