MCC-21: New look for Shuttle FCR ahead of future missions

by Chris Bergin

The historic Shuttle Flight Control Room (FCR) has a new, futuristic look. Upgraded from its honorable service with the Space Shuttle, the famous room – now transitioning into what is called MCC-21 – is all-but ready for its future role in supporting NASA’s current and future launch vehicles and spacecraft.

Shuttle Flight Control Room:

“Houston now controlling” was usually the first line of commentary made by the Public Affairs Officer (PAO) at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) following confirmation of the Shuttle’s lift-off.

The traditional hand-off from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to the Houston team marked the start of a Shuttle’s mission, a responsibility that would be a constant throughout the entire flight, through to post landing procedures.

The orbiter and her crew relied on the professionalism of the Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) controllers, with the teams working around the clock to monitor the spacecraft’s health, whilst assisting the astronauts through their flight plan tasks.

Shuttle FCRThe Shuttle FCR was a familiar sight to any fan of the Shuttle Program, with NASA TV often showing its rows of desks, lines of monitors and teams of controllers hard at work – all of which provided a backdrop to the large screens at the front of the room.

Around half of the Shuttle missions were controlled this room, known as the White FCR, beginning with STS-70, as controllers on their “blue consoles” conducted tens of missions, all of which concluded with a safe landing – bar one.

With STS-135 rounding out the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) in 2011, Atlantis’ return to the Kennedy Space Center marked the end of near-term operations in this FCR.

However, managers always had the room penciled in for a new life as part of NASA’s future ambitions.

Gutting the White FCRWork to transition the Shuttle FCR into what is known as MCC-21 – a reference to their 21st Century modifications – began last year, with the bitter sweet gutting of the room.

“It was a great room, that served its purpose for many years,” noted MCC Ground Controller (GC) Bill Foster during an insightful interview with JSC PAO Josh Byerly.

Following a new paint job, new wooden console desks were installed into the room, while the large screens at the front of the room were widened.

The old Shuttle FCR“That’s one thing I’m going to miss from the (old) White FCR, we had room on either side for the flags to go up, so now they are going to go back on poles (like they are in the ISS FCR),” added Mr. Foster.

“It was kinda nice to have the US flag up on the wall with the light flooding it.”

With the monitors all installed, testing has since begun on the new MCC-21 systems, although they are not yet fully functional.

“We ran (the systems) for the first time with the upgraded training system simulator, which we’re calling ‘Training System -21’,” Mr. Foster added. “That was very successful, so the developers are very happy with the results and the progress we’re making.”

Early MCC-21 Console Concept, via L2The layout of the consoles are being continually refined, with presentations from 2011 (available on L2) showing desks with two storeys of monitors.

That has since been refined, although the initial issue – not having a clear view of the front screens – still requires some tweaking.

“That’s one of the things we’re still struggling with, how to configure the monitors so that we can see the front screen,” noted Mr. Foster. “We have a layout of monitors going horizontally, but on one side of the console the monitors are stacked up – so if you’re sitting on that side, you don’t see the front screen.”

Shuttle FCR Upgraded to MCC-21With the JSC MCC a large expanse of rooms, upgrading work has been staggered, allowing for continuing operations during the transition – as explained by Mr. Foster.

“Some time in June or July of 2014, the ISS support will move down the hall to the White FCR, while for the next few months after that the ISS FCR will then be upgraded to look much like the new White FCR.”

The ISS FCR also sports an amazing history, having supported Apollo 7 and the first four Shuttle missions, beginning with STS-1, before missions moved to FCR-2.

The new look via MCC-21Orion’s debut trip into space during EFT-1 will be run out of the Blue FCR, the original room from which controllers flew the ISS out of – a smaller control room that has also been upgraded to the MCC-21 configuration. The MCC-21 upgrade is mainly angled towards Orion’s exploration adventures with the Space Launch System (SLS).

There is also a Red FCR, used as a training room, but its days are numbered.

“Red FCR is not going to be with us much longer”, noted Mr. Foster. “Once MCC-21 is complete, the training room on the third floor will be re-utilized for other purposes and we’ll use the Blue FCR for training.”

With the majority of MCC-H transitioning towards the future, other rooms that can look forward to new roles include the numerous support areas, not least the Mission Evaluation Room (MER).

Shuttle MERThe MER was a hub of activity during its Shuttle days, with large teams of NASA and contractor experts all working to ensure the Shuttle had a safe mission.

Per additional MCC-21 presentations from 2011 (available on L2), the MER – at least half of it – is set for a transition to support operations for the James Webb Space Telescope.

Those presentations noted support areas for JWST could easily be accomplished by sectioning off half of the SSP MER, providing sufficient console space and resources for the eventual 75-member team.

Likewise, enough conference space would be available for the JWST team and, if necessary, the conference space could be acquired from other areas should the needs of the JWST team expand.

Plans for other areas of the MCC are still being evaluated. However, this period of transition is nothing new for the world-famous building.

“This won’t be the last (transition),” added Mr. Foster. “the evolution will continue as technology improves.”

(Images: Via NASA TV, NASA and L2 L2 content)

Related Articles