NASA's Johnson Space Center opened for business at its 1,620-acre site 25 miles southeast of Houston in February 1964.

Houston was chosen as the site for the center after an investigation of many locations throughout the United States. The selection was announced in September 1961. Personnel began moving their offices from Langley Field in Virginia to Houston in October 1961 and construction began in April 1962.

The responsibilities of the center include the design, development and testing of spacecraft and associated systems for manned flight; the selection and training of astronauts; planning and conducting manned missions; and extensive participation in the medical, engineering and scientific experiments that help man understand and improve his environment.

The facilities were designed and built to house the wide variety of technical and scientific disciplines required for JSC's mission. The center's organization was divided into several directorates responsible for specific functions-spacecraft development, astronaut training or space flight planning, for example. The organization's flexibility allows frequent realignment of the directorates to keep pace with the changing directions of manned space flight. Some of the original directorates have reorganized, merged or split into separate groups; and new directorates have been created as needed.

The Johnson Space Center program offices direct or coordinate the efforts required locally, elsewhere within NASA or by industrial contractors to fulfill specific program responsibilities. The center has program management responsibility for the space shuttle program, its overall systems engineering and system integration, and the definition of elements that require government and contractor coordination. Directorates and program offices are responsible to the center director, who in turn is responsible to the Office of Space Flight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The JSC facilities are situated near Clear Lake on a site that was donated to NASA by Rice University. The facilities comprise approximately 100 different buildings that range in size and use from the nine-story project management building to the tiny traffic control booths at each entrance. While many structures are devoted to office space, others are uniquely designed for special tasks.

Building 30 is the Mission Control Center. The first half of the first floor, the windowless Mission Operations wing, houses the computers, processors, control panels, tape recorders, test boards, wiring, displays, controls and distribution equipment that support activities on the second and third floors. The second half of the first floor, the more conventional looking Operations Support wing, mainly contains office space. Here in the Mission Control Center a systems engineer can determine if life-sustaining oxygen is flowing at the proper rate or if a switch is in the proper position.

Many of the special facilities at JSC are designed to help determine if spacecraft systems and materials can stand up against the rigors of space flight. One such facility is the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory in Building 32. It contains two vacuum chambers: one is 120 feet high by 65 feet in diameter, and the other is 43 feet high by 35 feet in diameter. A complete spacecraft or individual components can be subjected not only to spacelike vacuum but also to temperature extremes from 280 F below zero to 260 F above zero. Nearby, at the Vibration and Acoustic Test Facility in Building 49, space hardware is buffeted by equipment that simulates the shakes and sounds that the spacecraft experiences in flight. In contrast, complete silence is found in the Anechoic Chamber Test Facility in Building 14, where the foam-covered walls, floor and ceiling soak up stray signals during spacecraft communication system tests.

Just as unique are some of the specialized facilities used to test and train the personnel who fly the spacecraft. In the Space Shuttle Orbiter Mockup and Integration Laboratory in Building 9A, astronauts train in full-scale space shuttle orbiter forward crew compartments and in a 60-foot-long payload bay. Across the street is the Lunar Sample Building, Building 31A.

The Weightless Environment Training Facility in Building 29 provides controlled neutral buoyancy in water to simulate weightlessness. The facility is an essential tool in the design, testing and development of spacecraft and crew equipment; the evaluation of body restraints and handholds; the development of new procedures; and the determination of extravehicular capabilities and work load limits. For the astronaut, it allows important preflight training and familiarity with planned crew activities and the dynamics of body motion under weightless conditions.

Most of the time spent in training an astronaut for a specific mission is logged in simulators that duplicate spacecraft equipment and control panels or even the entire spacecraft cabin. The most sophisticated training devices are the mission simulators, which incorporate on-screen projections where the spacecraft windows would be. The scenes are those the crew will see during the real mission. These training devices in the Mission Simulation and Training Facility can be tied in with the Mission Control communication system so that the crews and flight controllers can practice the entire mission many times before actual flight.

Other specialized facilities at JSC include a photography processing laboratory, a technical services shop, a printing plant, cafeterias, a fire department, a dispensary and a visitor center that houses spacecraft from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo manned space programs. The Johnson Space Center also maintains aircraft for astronaut training, research programs and administrative travel at nearby Ellington Field, and it also operates the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.

Hundreds of contracting companies helped build the space program. These companies are located throughout the United States and range in size from small shops employing several people to corporations employing tens of thousands of people. The task of managing these efforts-bringing everything together in the proper place at the right time with confidence that it will work as planned-is monumental. JSC overcomes the distance problem by assigning resident managers to the spacecraft contractors' plants, where they participate in development, manufacturing and testing activities. Regular reviews and progress reports are summarized in status charts that show the progress of all program phases.

Program management defines and controls the many system interfaces to ensure compatibility of crew, spacecraft and launch vehicle; and it establishes quality control and reliability standards, as well as appropriate checkout and test procedures.

Similar management functions are performed by the NASA centers responsible for other aspects of the program: the launch vehicle at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.; tracking and communication systems at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; and launch facilities at the John F Kennedy Space Center./A> in Florida. The total effort is coordinated by NASA Headquarters to a precise schedule and rigid standards; yet the controls are flexible enough to take advantage of new technology or to recover from failures.











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Information content from the NSTS Shuttle Reference Manual (1988)
Last Hypertexed Thursday August 31 10:09:35 EDT 2000
Jim Dumoulin (