History | 12 July 2017The Origins of Mission Control Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Mission Control is the main set up on the ground that is used to track the ships and communicate with the astronauts in them. Although this might now seem like an obvious thing to have, mission control did not always exist. But without it,our space missions would not have succeeded. Read more about mission control below and get more space exploration in Milestones of Space. The Mercury Control center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, is shown during Glenn’s mission. The three orbits are inscribed on the map, as are the range of the various tracking stations for Glenn in his orbit not much more than 100 miles (160 km) above the Earth. NASA. Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr., a young NASA engineer from tidewater Virginia, was the visionary of the mission control concept—then called Mercury Control. Early on, in thinking about how they were going to communicate with an astronaut circling the Earth, it became clear to Kraft that NASA needed a worldwide network of tracking stations linked to a central control center. Such a center would allow for many functions of the capsule to be backed up from the ground and for commands and emergency procedures to be communicated to the pilot. Kraft decided that he would differentiate the various functions of the spacecraft, booster and network into desks, which originated many of the roles and acronyms of mission control. For example, the controller responsible for the launch vehicle was called “Booster” and had his own console for that function; the person responsible for communication with the astronaut (always himself an astronaut) was called “CAPCOM” (Capsule Communicator). Creating Mercury Control between 1959 and 1961 presented many challenges. There were no geostationary communications satellites yet. Undersea telephone cables and teletype machines had to be used to link up the network. Computers existed only as huge mainframes that took up entire rooms. Orbital and trajectory calculations were made on an IBM machine at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, outside Washington, D.C., which also served as the center of the communications infrastructure; these calculations were then communicated to Mercury Control at the Cape. Tracking stations sometimes had to be built in remote and often dangerous regions, requiring the assistance of the State and Defense Departments. The Kano (Nigeria) and Zanzibar stations (the latter on a small island off the East African coast) proved especially troublesome due to anti-American feelings locally. Both stations were removed after Mercury. Moreover, Kraft’s deputy, Eugene Kranz, had to train the key members of all tracking stations in how to function as one team. The unmanned orbital missions in fall 1961 gave Mercury Control its first global tests. But it was the crisis over the false heat shield signal on Glenn’s flight that showed Kraft that he had to establish the authority of the Flight Director—during Mercury, almost always him—to make decisions without external interference. It also demonstrated the critical importance of clearly defined mission rules. In hindsight, Kraft decided that he should never have allowed the untested and perhaps dangerous procedure of keeping the retrorocket package on during the reentry. Mercury Control became Mission Control in Houston when Project Gemini began, following the transfer of the human spaceflight program to Texas. The last mission controlled out of the old building at the Cape was the three-orbit flight of Gemini 3 in 1965, the first to carry two astronauts. Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: A beautifully illustrated history of the exploration of space through the most iconic objects from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Throughout the whole of human history, across all of Earth’s cultures and landscapes, countless individuals have gazed up at the stars with wonder and awe. Getting to space was no easy task, and our curiosity with the surrounding universe has long been a source of earthly pride and competition. At the bottom of this international technology driven rivalry lies one unifying purpose, which is to understand the impossibly vast heavens. In Milestones of Space, Michael Neufeld and select curators of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum present a gorgeous photographic celebration of some of the most groundbreaking artifacts that played key parts in giving humanity its first steps into the cosmos. Focusing on the most iconic objects and technology – such as Friendship 7,the Lunar Module 2, Neil Armstrong’s Lunar Suit, the Hubble Space Telescope, and Space Shuttle Discovery – this book extensively profiles eleven of the NASM’s most important breakthroughs in space technology. The NASM curators feature each object in incredible detail with compelling timelines, sidebars and captions, and over 150 archival images that provide new and little-known insights into their development and historical context. We are still a long way from grasping our universe . . . but for now, Milestones of Space magnificently commemorates the individuals and inventions that have taken us this far. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.