How a Thanksgiving Day gag ruffled feathers in Mission Management

Flight Director James M. (Milt) Heflin, in Mission Control during the flight of STS-26 in 1988.

Enlarge / Flight Director James M. (Milt) Heflin, in Mission Management in the course of the flight of STS-26 in 1988. (credit score: NASA)

The cellphone name from the “Mountain” to Mission Management in Houston got here at simply concerning the worst potential time. It was the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning in 1991. Up in area, the crew members on board area shuttle Atlantis have been sleeping. Now swiftly, Lead Flight Director Milt Heflin confronted a disaster.

The flight dynamics officer in Mission Management knowledgeable Heflin that the Cheyenne Mountain Air Power Station, which tracked orbital visitors, had known as to warn {that a} dormant Turkish satellite tv for pc had a possible conjunction with the area shuttle in solely 15 minutes. Furthermore, this potential particles strike was due to happen in the midst of a communications blackout with the crew, because the spacecraft handed over the southern tip of Africa.

There was no manner for Heflin’s engineers to calculate an avoidance maneuver, wake the crew, and talk with them earlier than the blackout interval started. Heflin was furious—why had the Air Power not given extra warning a couple of potential collision? Sometimes, they offered about 24 hours’ discover. By God, if that satellite tv for pc hit Atlantis, they might very nicely lose the astronauts as they slept. The crew of STS-44 would possibly by no means awaken.

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