Sunday, 23 February 2014

Columbus Calling

Yesterday morning, I was lucky enough to be given a tour of the Columbus Control Centre. Located at the German Aerospace Centre - DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt) it sits just outside Munich in a place called Oberpfaffenhofen (also, my new favourite German word).


 As the Mission Control Centre for the European Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS), engineers here are in contact with the astronauts up in space as well as other ISS Mission Control Centres scattered across the globe. It was a pretty amazing way to start my weekend!

 

The Columbus module is the European part of the ISS. It is a European Space Agency (ESA) laboratory attached to the space station, where astronauts conduct experiments in fields ranging from plant biology, fluid physics, life science and material science. 

Launched into space nestled inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2008the Columbus module is a powerhouse of  space research and it is here, at the Columbus Control Centre that the space laboratory is controlled.

 


This room in the photos above is the Flight Control Room. It's staffed by a minimum of 3 people around the clock who monitor the module to ensure that everything is functioning correctly. Each astronaut's schedule is mapped out down to 5 minute increments  with 8 hours of work, 8 hours of play and 8 hours of sleep all precisely pencilled into the computer program on the screen above. Since it was a weekend, the astronauts are given this time off, so are free to enjoy the wonders of zero gravity without disturbance.

It was a really great day and a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into the enormous global effort that the space station is, both on Earth and in space. 
A friendly engineer even let us sit in his chair for a photo op :) The button I'm holding speed dials an astronaut via Houston!

-Nikita

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