It's definitely Monday. Otto spit up on my work clothes this morning, I forgot to brush my teeth and I sat down in my car forgetting to clean the layer of sand from the beach yesterday. Whoops. But, it's also MONDAY!!!!! Which means you get a special look behind the proverbial curtain of Mission Control in a series I'm dubbing "Mission Control Monday". We all need a little "boost" (pun intended) at the beginning of the week, so why not get it from the heart of Manned Spaceflight itself - NASA's Mission Control!
This week I am highlighting the little known fact that sometimes, as an ADCO Specialist, I am scheduled to be "On Call". It just so happens I am "on-call" this week! Even though we don't have a sweet 1990's pager, the ADCO on-call is a Specialist with the cumbersome responsibility of having their cell phone strapped to them at all times. Yes, even during the night. Yes, even when you have a 3 month old. Yes, just in case something crazy happens and a second ADCO is needed, or someone gets sick, or someone gets sprayed by a skunk (yes, that really happened).
You may be wondering, what could possibly happen that would require a second ADCO or an ADCO Specialist in the middle of the night? Well friends, there are so.many.things. Space is immensely unforgiving and any seemingly small problem can turn very serious, very fast. If one of our power channels goes down we could lose multiple computers and gyroscopes that keep the station oriented correctly. If there is a water leak in the cabin, our equipment could be damaged or need to be powered off and leave us without redundancy. If there is a crew medical emergency we may need to undock a Soyuz in an expedited fashion - requiring unplanned changes to attitude control, firing thrusters, or specifically NOT firing thrusters. There could be an unforecasted solar storm that blasts radiation into our sensitive electronics and affects our navigation equipment. There could be a fire that leaves equipment or computers fried, or worse, injures a crew member. But, probably our most imminent threat is a hit from one of the millions of pieces of orbital debris. If the object is big enough to be tracked and heading our way, it is ADCO's job to move the space station out of the way - assuming there is enough time. However, there are millions of pieces that are too small for tracking, but their speed makes them more dangerous than a bullet. And, as you can imagine, a bullet hitting the side of a pressurized spacecraft is a recipe for disaster.
And, while all of these failures affect other systems as well, I have highlighted only the ADCO impacts, illustrating the incredibly complicated nature of this work.
#2 says: To always be aware that suddenly and unexpectedly we may find ourselves in a role where our performance has ultimate consequences.
So, tonight as I sleep - baby monitor on one side of the bed and cell phone with the ringer on the other, I pray my on-call services won't be needed. But, it IS part of this unique job - I signed up to take on the responsibility to protect a billion dollar spacecraft and the precious lives she holds whether the timing is convenient or not.