• Question: How long have you worked there and how long did it take you to feel confident about your work?

    Asked by 759tch48 to Col Op, Andrea on 13 Jun 2016.
    • Photo: Andrea Boyd

      Andrea Boyd answered on 13 Jun 2016:

      I’ve been here about 5 years but worked in a different control room at the largest underground mine in Australia for several years before the ISS. My other control room was much more intense and I became very good at performing my job under pressure so that calmness translated well to the ISS control room.

      You have to certify individually for each Flight Controller role. It took about 10 months of theory and practical training to certify the first time as a payload controller. For Eurocom I sat the whole certification process again but completed it in 7 weeks, but this isn’t normal and that’s another story.

      First: Theory
      You learn all the new things in classes like at school and then sit exams for each on the theory parts of the ISS and your role. You should study by yourself too.

      Second: Observation
      You sit with current flight controllers for passive on the job training to experience what it’s like in the real control room and watch them work.

      Third: Practice
      You sit practical exams in the form of simulations: a simulation flight control room connected to all the other simulation flight control rooms in other countries and use the same software etc as the real ISS but connected to a simulator so it can receive commands and give lifelike telemetry back. You take about 10 of these 8hour European ISS simulations, so it’s just like a normal day. You have to put all the things you learnt in class into practice, using correct voice protocol, following the timeline, running science, dealing with problems, listening to everything, writing your console log, handling flight notes, remembering all the theory lessons and then…. for fun the simulation director will throw in things that go wrong with your science and then near the end of the 8hrs they will try to destroy the space station with a horrible emergency like fire or a hole in the space station or toxic ammonia leak. In your final evaluation they really target you, giving your payload/position a ton of difficult anomalies as well as the overall emergency.

      Fourth: more practice
      You sit active on the job training with a certified flight controller colleague sitting next to you at the real space station control room so they can catch your mistakes and you can ask questions if you’re not sure.

      Fifth: more practice
      You also take four international simulations, connected to counterparts in NASA and they look the same but go for 10-12hours including feedback. It’s even more real, being with American speakers and Russian speakers and NASA astronauts (the crew in these sims are usually real astronauts!). The point isn’t ‘can you do your job’ – sure you can, everyone can do these tasks individually no problem – but can you do it when it’s late at night, you’re tired and grumpy and have been on console for 5 hours and everything is going wrong and a billion people are talking in your ear and you’re behind on the timeline and you still need to support the astronauts while keeping your hardware safe and oh.. did you notice that slight current increase in your payload rack that could lead to a fire? (in real life, it’s much less dramatic than in simulations. Sim directors have vivid imaginations!!)

      This training flow is very good. By your 3rd simulation you are skilled and working like a normal flight controller. By the time you get to sit on a real console you have done it so many times in simulations you feel confident.