Thought you guys might like this. At least the shuttle has good old switches and knobs and not “i-Drive” or the lousy “My Ford Touch” system… Also, looking at the cooling panel, it looks like the shuttles used good ol’ R12 (Freon) and not something newer.
Back in the mid-90s, I was fortunate enough to work on a series of projects that spanned the shuttle, MIR and the ISS platforms.
The equipment I designed ran on three STS missions. Still have the NASA commemorative patches and t-shirts. Having grown up during the Apollo era, I always dreamed of being involved in anything of this nature. As part of the effort, I had the opportunity to visit the NASA facilities in Houston.
Personal tour of the command and control complex, vehicle assembly buildings, old Apollo equipment graveyard and full access to the hi-fidelity shuttle mock ups. These are essentially fully functional sections of real shuttles they use for training the crews. I was allowed to crawl up inside and sit in the cockpit area, etc. Super awesome and something I will never forget.
I was also given access to the test pool where they simulate space operations under water. Fully submerged sections of the ISS with suited up personnel running through the activities planned for future missions. This pool was BIG. Finally, I was allowed to crawl all over a full fidelity section of the ISS (Destiny module) where my equipment would eventually reside. Saw it again just the other day on Modern Marvels…
The shuttle was designed in the '70s. The first test flight was in '81.
Modern aircraft have gone largely to “glass”. I saw a recent photo of a current, up-to-date B52 cockpit recently, and while there was a bit of glass, it was nice to see th old “steam gages”.
On ething about airdcraft design too is that the knobs and switches are designed such that a pilot with gloves can feel what knob or switch he’s grabbing. The shapes and sized are intentionally varied. I wish they’d design cars like that.
As you pointed out they began finalizing the computer design in the 70s but the design cycle time and vast sums spent on V&V means the hardware is ancient (and cast in stone) by the time it finally gets deployed.
The Human Interface Requirements documentation supplied to us was VOLUMES. No detail left undefined. On orbit, they can be “walking” across your equipment face. All switches protected by guards and finger grabs meant for space gloves in the event of a depressurization. Size, style, spacing, placement, colorization nothing left to the imagination.
They delivered the Statement Of Work (SOW) with a pallet jack. I made a joke once to the prime- NASA stands for Numbers, Acronyms and Special Abbreviations…
Some of the “black boxes” used late 60’s chips, quad nands, used in new designs in the very late 60’s. Where I worked we would show new techs the shuttle equipment that came in for service, and they would almost fall down laughing, saying it belonged in museums.
When they stopped production, NASA cleverly bought zillions of extra parts, realizing it would be impossible to buy replacement parts years down the road.
Why old stuff like that? Certification of each individual box cost a fortune, so it was not feasible to make new boxes. The boxes would not cost that much, but certification sure would.
True it was antique, and far obsolete as we made our way into the chilly high regions of the last few decades, but it was reliable and proven. AFAIK, no shuttle suffered a debilitating computer failure. And (sadly), these relics kept reliably gathering and relaying data until the bitter end after the Challenger explosion and breakup of Columbia in atmosphere. Delivering more information than most of us would want to know. Maybe not cutting edge, but as dependable as an anvil as far as computer technology goes. The engineers that designed, built, and tested these systems deserve credit IMHO.
AFAIK, no shuttle suffered a debilitating computer failure
They had three of the same computers all running the same code in lock step. There was a continual voting process going on. If one failed (which they did more often than you might think) the other two would out vote that one and shut it down. Redundancy is not just a word, it’s a religion…
When they stopped production, NASA cleverly bought zillions of extra parts, realizing it would be impossible to buy replacement parts years down the road
They’ve been doing that ever since and still do to this day. In fact, EVERY SINGLE PART must be tested and verified prior to placing it into inventory. They buy all the parts the program will ever need, including spares, at one time and have them tested. This helps to eliminate some of the manufacturing variance over time and to insure the parts are available.
For the program I referenced previously, they bought 5x as many “boxes” as the program intended to fly and then bought every spare part we had on hand at the close of our development.
The place I’m working now has equipment on orbit in satellites. Same deal. We buy parts, send them out for certification, inventory them and the guvmint inspectors come in the perform audits. Only upon their acceptance is any assembly done. Better be sure about your design too because they are going to buy a lot of parts and the scrap exposure isn’t for the faint of wallet…
Duplicates are critical. At time of liftoff, one is required to have an EXACT copys of every single part and assembly on board, produced at the same time in the same lot INCLUDING the machining, plating, coating, and hand-assembly. This is essential should something go wrong. Failure analysis can only be done on the parts here on Earth, so exact copies are critical.
There are also exact copies of everything that get destruct-tested during assembly. Impact testing, sand & dust, heat-impact, thermal cycling, required microsection analysis etc. etc. all need exact copies.
Excellent point about FA after the fact.
Exact as in ‘as close as possible’.
Shift happens, even in batch processing
I did some design of Electronic Safe Arm and Fire (ESAF) systems for missles. The ESAF is responsible for everything except flight guidance (launch motor ignition, launch tether for tube clearance detection, fin deployment, flight motor ignition, warhead arming and the ignition mode of either air, ground or penetrating burst). Nice to work on something that is SUPPOSED to blow up. Trick is to get it to blow up at the right time. At any rate, they wanted the feasibility ESAFs to survive even a successful mission so it could be interrogated and analyzed afterward. What do you suppose the deceleration profile for a bunker penetrating missle looks like? Good grief!
As you can imagine, the guys using these munitions are sensitive to failure of any kind. These systems needed both hardware and software redundancy. Hardware logic was constantly compared to the microcontroller logic to insure they agreed or it would fail safe (as safe as a hurtling missle can be anyway).
Funniest thing I ever saw was a video of a foreign designed shoulder fired missle that just cleared the tube and skidded on the ground in front of the guys launching it. Talk about a fire drill, yikes!