Mark Shuttleworth - February 02, 2002: Houston wrap-up - We finished the NASA training on a high note on Friday, with a debrief and press conference. Everyone seems happy. In future, they will probably try to arrange at least three weeks of training for people who are seeing the US segment for the first time, including the Russian cosmonauts who are assigned to backup crews. There is lots more that I'd have like to have learned, especially from a practical point of view working with the network and comms system. But we covered the basics well.
It was great to visit Houston. I think we'll be able to keep a strong line of communication open with NASA. Freddie Kahn, our man in Houston, seems to have settled in nicely. NASA has been fantastic on the education and training front. As it happened, they had a big conference on 'education and the space program' over the weekend so Freddie was able to learn a lot more in a short space of time. Debbie Brown from NASA has been extraordinarily helpful. So the Cape Town team will have plenty in the way of content to work with in the efforts.
It isn't necessarily all plain sailing. We'll have to work carefully through some of the detail. While NASA seems satisfied that I can be treated like a member of the crew in principle, there are going to be some sticky issues. Hopefully we can get those resolved. It makes things a LOT easier that this isn't a for-profit initiative. That would be very hard for NASA to handle under their current policies. But having Freddie in Houston as an ongoing liason means that we can address the issues as they arise. He's going to get some background training on the mission control procedures and processes, and during the flight he'll be in ISS Mission Control Center.
As part of the training week we were given a tour of JSC and the local space center. Pretty cool to see the full spectrum of US space vehicles, from Mercury on through Gemini, Apollo and the Shuttle. The shuttle mockup in the training center is awesome. It is HUGE! After spending months working in the tiny soyuz, I can't believe how much space is in the shuttle mid-deck and cockpit. We also saw the neutral boyancy facility where they train for EVA's. All in all, NASA runs a very impressive operation. And this is just the manned spaceflight centre.
Socially, it was a lot of fun to stay with the Russian crews. We spent most evenings with Russians living in Houston... it;s a tight community and everybody wants to cram as much visiting into the time available. By Friday I felt like the living dead. When one of the media folks asked 'do you drink?' at the press debrief (because NASA had just released a set of criteria for spaceflight participants) I couldn't help but laugh. We must have finished half the vodka in Houston in the course of the week