The last shutdown; sometimes a good feeling and other times, somewhat sobering. As I look back over my career and other projects most last shutdowns were sobering for me. That meant an end of an era.

One instance was when I shutdown the system where we supported the Ice/Debris management teams for shuttle launches as STS-135 Atlantis reached orbit, the last Space Shuttle to fly, as I powered down the system since our job for that flight was complete, it was a sobering, sad time for me. I had supported 17 of the last 18 shuttle launches, and I loved every minute of it. It was in a Boeing building at Ellington Field called Tower 2 on the 6th floor. We spent many long hours of the last preparations for flight observing ice buildup on the space vehicle during fueling ops. The danger was if there was ice buildup at the fuel hose connectors on the main fuel tank. Ice balls could break loose and damage the vehicle at launch. This team was formed because of the Challenger disaster. Ice had hardened some O-rings in the solid rocket boosters which caused a runaway failure. The debris aspect of the management team was formed because of the Columbia disaster.

Our room was on the Go/No Go launch poll. Our Call to Stations varied due to our role and since I was responsible for the rear screen projection system at the front of the room and camera routing from the launch pad, I was on the early list. If the launch was scheduled for a 03:00 (3:00 am) launch, my call to station would be 9 hours before which was 18:00 (6:00 pm) the previous evening. There were many times the launch was scrubbed for several reasons, and it was common to be within an hour or so to launch when the scrub was called. If it was a 24-hour turnaround, meaning the issue could be resolved in time for another attempt the next day, the launch window would move approximately an hour later so my call to station the following day would be 19:00 (7:00 pm) for a 04:00 (4:00 am) launch. Sometimes the next day or two would also be scrubs so we would do it all over again until we got a Go for Launch.

The room we worked in, 91-14/6402, was in a way like Mission Control in building 30 at Johnson Space Center, but with mahogany tables instead of consoles. My station was a desk size mahogany table with the touch screen switchers, routers, and a computer. I sat up near the front of the room on the right side. I had the best seat in the house to see what was on all the screens at the front of the room.

At launch as soon as the Shuttle cleared the tower, the team quickly switched over from Ice mode to Debris mode. We would watch for anything that broke loose like fuel tank insulation or ice ball break away that might damage anything below on the vehicle. During the Columbia launch a piece of foam insulation broke away and damaged the leading edge of the port wing of the shuttle. Since there was no debris team, no one knew of the damage that caused the shuttle to break apart on re-entry with the loss of the crew. It was after the fact that analysis of video recordings that they determined what caused the accident.

Once we checked in for our tour for this launch, we were not allowed to leave the building, so we had a table full of snacks and drinks just outside our room. Meals were brought in at the appropriate time, most times it was pizza.

Part of my job was to select channels as requested by the team on the DVIS Coms and route it to the room’s sound system. DVIS is the secure Digital Voice Intercommunications System that NASA uses that has many channels. For instance, the Flight Director and Launch Director had their channels as well as fueling operations and other logistics. I had the ability to combine as many channels as requested by the Ice/Debris Management team. On most launches we would monitor up to three channels all of which would be talking over each other. We learned to listen for key words and phrases to see if we needed to isolate a channel and listen or talk over that channel. When the Go/No Go polls were taken, the Flight Director would go through their list for flight worthiness. Then the Launch Director would go through their list. Once we got a Go from each Director, then things were getting exciting. Eight hours of dull routine work of switching and monitoring was about to turn into eight minutes of exciting video monitoring and switching from the shuttle as it climbed into orbit. Once the main fuel tank was released, our job for this launch was complete. We did however keep a camera on the shuttle watching the tank as it drifted away to burn up in the atmosphere. What remained of the fuel tank after burn in fell into the Indian Ocean on the other side of the world.

After the cheering, shaking hands and congratulating each other for a job well done people slowly filed out of the room to head home. I went through the system methodically shutting down equipment. In the video rack were the secure video satellite receivers where we got our video feeds from the launch pad and the shuttle. I powered those down one at time. Each receiver carried two high-definition video streams. As I powered the last one down, it hit me that they will most likely never be powered up and connected to the NASA Comms Satellite again. That thought was sad for me. Atlantis was in orbit but for this system, the job was over.

When that area of the building was decommissioned, I kept all the equipment racks and kept possession of the room’s furniture. About a year or so later I had a request to build out a video conference room at our other building on Bay Area Blvd for the Commercial Crew Program, I had the racks and furniture moved over to the new room. I integrated the rack but with new and updated video and audio equipment. I left those satellite receivers mounted in the rack even though they are not connected to anything or will ever look to a satellite again. I wanted to keep a part of shuttle history in the racks where they resided. When it came time to have the mahogany tables moved into the new room, everyone told me that the room was too small, it would not fit. I held my ground as Project Manager and said, this is what we are using. When the tables were brought in and installed, what do you know, it was a perfect fit.

Today when you go in that room, 91-51/4e806, the tables have scratches and need to be refinished. I never put in the ticket to do so, those scratches and imperfections are from the long days of Shuttle Launch Support. Recently a group supporting the International Space Station contracts, spares and supplies moved to the area where that room will work best for their use. I showed the Office Administrators how the room operates. One of them mentioned getting the furniture refinished. They said the beautiful mahogany needs to be brought out again. I told them the history of where this furniture came from. I showed them the small desk where I sat for 17 Shuttle Launch supports. They had no idea of the history behind the furniture, and they said they were honored to have use of this room. They intended to preserve them as they are, if for nothing else, in memory of the crews lost on Challenger and Columbia. Afterall, those losses are why the Ice/Debris management team were formed; to prevent another crew loss.