Getting to know our Space Shuttle consolation prize

NASA's Full Fuselage Trainer, headed to Seattle

OK, so we didn’t get one of the real Space Shuttles. But the thing we got looks a lot like one, if you don’t mind the lack of wings. Real-life astronauts trained in it. And hey, we get to walk around inside!

That, at least, was the conciliatory message from Seattle’s Museum of Flight today, as officials attempted to cast our landing of a Full Fuselage Trainer as news even though we’ve known we were getting it for months.

“While we are happy for the cities which have been awarded one the retiring space shuttles, we are thrilled to receive the full-fuselage shuttle trainer,” said Doug King, Museum of Flight president and CEO, in a news release. “Not only is it a unique and exciting educational artifact to have as a centerpiece of our Space Gallery, but, unlike the actual shuttles, we will be able to allow the public to walk inside it and actually see where the shuttle astronauts trained.”

Maybe that’s the mature way of looking at it, but the approach made me long for some good-old fashioned Ohio outrage. After learning that they were passed over, one legislator in the Buckeye state today called the decision to give  shuttles to New York and Los Angeles “a disservice to the Midwest and the Air Force.” Another called for a federal investigation.

At any rate, as long as we’re being “Seattle nice,” here’s a closer look at the shuttle trainer, in the form of the fact sheet distributed by the Museum of Flight today.

The FFT is a full-scale mockup of the space shuttle orbiter — without the wings. It is used as a test bed for upgrades to the shuttle fleet and for astronaut training such as extra-vehicular activity (EVA) and emergency egress. Built at Johnson Space Center in the 1970s, it is the oldest mockup in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF). The FFT includes flight quality systems, such as a payload bay, lighting and closed circuit TV (CCTV).

Astronauts found the FFT very useful in helping them become familiar with the locations of shuttle equipment and controls.

The trainer was also used to practice housekeeping procedures, such as meal preparation and trash management.

The horizontal position of the FFT allowed astronauts to practice emergency egress procedures after the shuttle lands.

The FFT includes the major parts of the orbiter: flight deck, mid-deck, and payload bay.

Although the simulator looks like the shuttle, it is made of plywood and is fixed in a horizontal position.

The Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF) is located inside Building 9 of Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. It houses several space shuttle mockups, including the FFT, as well as mockups of every major pressurized module on the International Space Station. It is primarily used for astronaut training and systems familiarization.

It typically takes at least a year for astronauts to train, and sometimes longer depending on the objectives of the mission. Each crew spent up to 100 hours training in the SVMF in more than 20 separate classes.

While many of the systems in the SVMF are flight-like, they do not contain what are generally known as simulators (as used to train pilots). Instead the FFT and other trainers in the SVMF are used for astronaut training in housekeeping, in-flight maintenance, stowage familiarity, ingress/egress, etc.

It took a versatile team comprising a variety of skills and experience to develop, maintain and operate the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Specialists such as designers, engineers, project managers, electronic technicians and shop technicians were used to create the accurate mockups to train astronauts, test systems and procedures and serve as gravity-bound simulations.

Yep, they had me at “plywood.”

OK, that felt good to say, but enough with the hard feelings. I’ll get over my disappointment, and I’ll be standing in line next to the rest of you when the exhibit opens. FFT FTW.

  • mamikaze

    I knew I was not cut out for space flight. A year of training for entrances and exits plus more for actual work sounds too complicated for me.

    • Anonymous

      Well, hey, at least now you can check out the trainer and see what you missed!

  • http://www.puzzazz.com Roy Leban

    The no wings part actually sounds like an advantage — more room for other things in the museum. Sure, it’s disappointing to not get a real shuttle, but looking forward to checking this out.

  • Katrina

    I know my boys would much rather walk around inside a trainer than get to look at a real one from a five + foot clearance!

    • Anonymous

      That’s the spirit!

  • sadastro

    Three on the East coast (too close) and only one on the West coast? I heard we would have gotten the Columbia when it retired, so we in Seattle really believed we were chosen for one. A shuttle in each corner of the continental U.S. sounds right, don’t you think? As for the plywood simulator, I’ll be climbing aboard it, but I hope it won’t be costing as much to bring here as a shuttle and I hope we won’t be disappointed in how it looks. Seems good, but not the real thing.

  • Instr54plus

    Disappointment? Try being in Houston where the Shuttle was a apart of our community, and people have spent much of their lives supporting the Shuttle and it’s crews. What did we get? ZIP! (Well to be fair, we may get pink slips.) Not only did we get no shuttle, our training facilities and NASA displays are being pillaged so that you guys can have something. Okay, the shuttle belongs to all U.S.ians…understood. But no whining, please. At least you got something.

    • http://faves.com/users/mike mckoss

      I would agree that Houston (and Seattle) would have been a better location than either of NYC or LA – but I found Senator Cornyn’s (R-TX) remarks on the decision to be insulting to the American public at large, who paid for the NASA program: “Today’s announcement is an affront to the thousands of dedicated men and women at Johnson Space Center, the greater Houston community and the State of Texas”.

      Looking at this from a geo-political standpoint, Houston got the benefit of five decades of federal funding, because of LBJ siting the space center there in the 60′s. I don’t think you can argue that NASA “owed” Houston a Shuttle award. Shouldn’t Houston be thankful for the years of federal money that have poured into that community due to the space program already?

      Boeing was a major contractor for the design and building the Shuttle. As their corporate birthplace, I think you can argue that a Shuttle would be just as “at home” here, as it would have been in Houston.

      If you want to chastise someone for whining – I think you should start with your own political leaders.

  • Anonymous

    Why can’t we just build some wings and nail ‘em on! And don’t forget, Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose was just that…spruce plywood. It actually flew.

  • http://faves.com/users/mike mckoss

    It was surprising to see both the NY and CA awards – population density (and a large congressional delegation) seem to be the merits of those two locations; but lots of other minuses – like how they’re going to actually deliver the Shuttle there safely.

    As a board member at the Museum of Flight, I’m disappointed that we won’t be getting a shuttle – I think it would have been a very large driver for attendance. BUT, the FFT is going to be a superior educational experience, since we can go inside and run programs and even flight simulations inside.

    And the building we started to house the shuttle, will now contain an awesome array of space artifacts – hopefully from private space endeavors as well as government ones.