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Behind the Scenes at Mission Control

Stashed in: NASA, NASA to Me

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If your favorite character in a lot of movies is Ed Harris with a headset... this is the article for you! The straight dope from a space shuttle mission controller!

He is surprisingly candid:

People often ask, “What does it take to be a flight controller?” (When they aren’t asking me if I’m a cook.)

And I say, “Balance.”

Good grades, but not necessarily great. Outside interests. Confidence. In a critical situation, with no time and little information, the ability to make the right decision. A willingness to look beyond the confines of your job description, to see the big picture, to pursue knowledge until you understand a system, a problem, or a requirement thoroughly. And, honestly, a certain amount of ego.

It also requires a willingness to live in Houston, amid the flatness, the humidity, the suffocating heat, as well as fire ants, roaches, wasps, mosquitoes, snakes, line-dancers, and other vermin.

And dedication. Only one group exceeded the flight controllers in this category: the astronauts. I scoffed at them a bit at the beginning of this article, but they were the most intelligent, driven, fiercely knowledgeable group of people I have ever known. Sometimes, late at night I would stop by my office to pick up or drop off something; invariably, many of the lights were still burning up on the third floor.

And while the astronauts get all the glory—some of the time undeservedly, it is true—it is also they who don’t come home to their families when it all goes horribly wrong.

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