Marianne J. Dyson

Shuttle Mission Control: Flight Controller Stories and Photos, 1981-1992

by Marianne Dyson

Cover of Shuttle Mission Control.
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Author's Note 2021: Why I wrote this book

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 part-time 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!).

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.

Please report any errors, misspellings, or comments (keeping in mind that the interviews were conducted in 1992 and describe operations as they were at that time), via my Contacts page.

Thank you for taking the time to read about challenges faced and solutions found by flight controllers during the first decade of Shuttle operations. I hope you enjoy your visit to Shuttle Mission Control!

Table of Contents with Interview Subjects Noted

MISSION CONTROL: ACHIEVEMENT THROUGH EXCELLENCE

THE FLIGHT CONTROL ROOMS

The Bat Cave

Key Communications

Mission Operations Computers

The Human Interface

THE POSITIONS

Ground Controller - Larry Foy

Flight Dynamics Officer/Trajectory Officer - Brian Perry

Guidance Procedures/Rendezvous Officer - Will Presley and Ted Dyson

Data Processing System Engineer - Michael Darnell

Propulsion Engineer - Jim B. McDede

Extravehicular Activity Specialist - Bob Adams

Guidance, Navigation, and Controls Systems Engineer - F. Edward Trlica. Jr.

Payloads Officer - Michelle Brekke

Electrical Generation and Illumination Engineer - Mark D. Fugitt

Environmental Engineer and Consumables Manager - Jack Knight

Integrated Communications Officer - Bob Castle

Flight Director - Gene Kranz and Bob Castle

Spacecraft Communicator - Carl E. Walz

Flight Activities Officer - Carolynn Conley and Marianne Dyson

Maintenance, Mechanical, Arm, and Crew Systems Engineer - Paul Dye

Payload Deployment and Retrieval System Specialist - Ronald J. Zaguli

Booster Engineer - Franklin S. Markle, III

Mission Operations Director - Gene Kranz

Flight Surgeon - Dr. Roger Billica

Public Affairs Officer - Jeffrey E. Carr

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS

APPENDIX A: MISSION PLAQUES HUNG BY FLIGHT CONTROLLERS

APPENDIX B: FLIGHT CONTROL ROOMS & FLIGHTS SUPPORTED

INDEX

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Women in Control

Marianne Dyson, STS-4 Entry Team FAO (NASA photo, 1982)
Marianne Dyson, STS-4 Entry Team FAO (NASA photo, 1982)

Who were the first women in Mission Control? Here are lists that I compiled from rosters and interviews:

More Dyson Books

Order my memoir, A Passion for Space, from Amazon in print or eBook form:

Order my science fiction collection, Fly Me to the Moon, in print or eBook format from Amazon.



Space Poems is a collection of my poems about spacecraft, aliens, and physics, previously published in magazines from 1992 to 2000.


Crossword & Word Find puzzles for adults & teens. Available only through Teachers Pay Teachers.

Anthologies/Books Containing My Work

Some of my short stories are included in anthologies. If you use my links, I get a "finders fee" and it doesn't cost you any extra. So check out some of the wonderful works by my fellow SF authors and thanks for using my links!

Trajectories, edited by Dave Creek, includes my novella, "The Breath of Mars," which is NOT included in my Fly Me to the Moon collection. The book also contains stories by Mary A. Turzillo, Arlan Andrews, Sr., Maya Kaathryn Bohrhoff, Martin L. Shoemaker, Brad R. Torgersen, Bud Sparhawk, Jay Werkheiser, and John F. Allen.

Touching the Face of the Cosmos, edited by Paul Levinson, includes my story "The Right of Interference" that explores what happens to the "prime directive" if there is a Prime Director. This story is NOT included in my Fly Me to the Moon collection. A familiarity with Christianity may be required to appreciate the humor in this story.

The Eagle Has Landed, edited by Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld, contains my novelette, Fly Me to the Moon.

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