Defining the role of mission specialist

By April 1976, scientist-astronaut William Lenoir had been assigned to participate in the ASSESS-II mission, although he expressed concerns over his ability to fulfil both his CB assignments and those with ASSESS-II at the same time. Writing to the Director of JSC, the Acting Director of Flight Crew Operations, the Acting Director of Science and Applications and the Chief of CB Science and Applications, Bob Parker requested that Lenoir be relieved from some of his other assignments in order to participate as MS on ASSESS-II.16 Parker felt it was important for the Science and Applications Branch (Code TE) of the Astronaut Office to participate in the forthcoming airborne mission, which was expected to define the function and role of the mission specialist. The TE had always maintained that the MS should be "professionally knowledgeable in the prime discipline of the mission to which he was assigned.'' The MS also had responsibility for the "in-flight integration of experimental objectives and, overall, for the successful completion of the experiment mission objectives and to reduce training loads.'' As the primary objective of ASSESS-II was in atmospheric physics, with a synthetic aperture radar and microwave limb sounder as leading experiments, Lenoir was judged the most knowledgeable member of TE in these areas. As Parker noted, "I have no doubt [that] if this were a real mission, we would be proposing him as a mission specialist.''

On 20 May 1976, following an ASSESS and Shuttle planning meeting with NASA HQ officials, Eugene Kranz, the Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations, forwarded a memo to a number of directorates at JSC, including the Astronaut Office.17

In his summary, Kranz noted, "The Headquarters ASSESS meeting was long, involved and frequently emotional ... I believe the JSC presentation went as well as could be expected since there were so many differences of opinion prior to the meeting.'' After dealing with payload management concepts, interaction with STS, and defining direct interfaces between user (PI) and operator (NASA), the discussions concerning the function of a payload operations working group caused much controversy. Kranz noted that the intent at JSC was to establish this group to work on technical problems with the Orbital Flight Test series of Shuttle flights, along with "early operational concepts, requirements, and vehicle operational interfaces, as well as subjects associated with training, scheduling, and flight planning integration.''

Several participating directorates and field centres at the Washington meeting strongly objected to flight operations (JSC) leading this activity (science), and though Kranz was told he could indeed call a meeting if he wanted, "no user representation would be provided by the science organisation.'' Apparently, agency-wide science working groups were already in place for such purposes. Kranz commented in his memo: "Again, history is repeating itself. We had science working groups for all previous programs; however, they never satisfied the needs involved in preparation for a real mission.'' Kranz predicted some flak on this issue when the memorandum of the first meeting was released. The long-standing battle between field centres dealing with science and flight operations was still deep-rooted in NASA, and would remain so for some time.

Several smaller issues also surfaced at the meeting, which generated responses from the CB. Apparently, the mission manager concept for Spacelab would be pursued by HQ for OFT missions as well, where there would be little "science". Kranz also noted that "the mission specialist job description and functions are not recognised by some branches of NASA, and even some of the personnel at the Office of Space Flight are unclear as to the intent in this area.'' Kranz stated that further definition should be pursued and a standard guideline for this position agreed throughout the agency. In addition, it was suggested that a Skylab flight-experienced astronaut should be assigned to act as MS in support of ASSESS, with the objective of using the availability of ASSESS to help define the role of MS. Kranz asked the CB if a Skylab astronaut assignment was necessary. Jerry Carr, commander of the third Skylab flight added the note, "Heck, no!" Carr did not see any need for such an assignment and did not wish to deprive an unflown scientist-astronaut of the opportunity to participate on a "mission", even if it were only airborne, not space-borne.18

In summary, Kranz noted, "This Headquarters meeting was quite disturbing. Flight Operations has been frequently accused of a 'business as usual' approach. My feeling is that there is such a disagreement between the Office of Space Flight and the Office of Space Science (with JSC and Flight Operations Directorate) in matters pertaining to science operations, that it is impossible to develop a plan that will work. Somehow, we have to convince these groups of the need for an integrated plan for the Shuttle program.'' It had to be easy for a user to visualise, and effective in utilisation, but remain flexible to accommodate the large amount of payload users and Shuttle mission types. ''The basic concept of using a coordinator outside of Flight Operations to 'protect' a scientific user from the vagaries of flight operations cannot be tolerated,'' Kranz stated.

In reply, John Young, Chief of the Astronaut Office at JSC, noted, ''The whole thing [the memo from Kranz] is the same old story; a power struggle that won't produce anything except hard feelings (and no scientific data).'' Astronaut Ken Mattingly was working on Shuttle development issues at this time, and his technical responsibilities included working towards the Orbital Flight Test missions. He was also part of the CB group assigned to Spacelab development issues. He added his own notes to Young's comments: ''John isn't going to volunteer anyone [to liaise with Ames] yet. But I [Mattingly] suspect the inevitable is coming. In order to relax and enjoy it, I'd appreciate comments on a] ASSESS, b] what should be the role of the MS and c] should we get into the fray on how to fly payloads?'' One of the responses attached to this series of memos and notes came from Joe Kerwin, who recognised the need to refine the role of MS, ''if Ames thinks one person can be mission specialist and mission manager.'' Kerwin offered to take the lead in this effort, working with key personnel at Ames. He also suggested using a copy of the Shuttle Flight Operations Planning document, in conjunction with discussions with Ames, to review the role of the MS and devise a recommendation about providing one for ASSESS.

At a staff meeting of Flight Operations Directorate (FOD) members on 25 May at JSC,19 at which support was given for the ASSESS programme, it was noted that the FOD would be required to participate, with the inclusion of ''a flight-experienced astronaut'', and that further discussion with Chris Kraft, the Director of JSC, and John Yardley, the Associate Administrator for Space Flight at Washington DC, would be forthcoming on this issue. Again, John Young responded: ''We need to look into this to see how little time can reasonably be devoted to it (ASSESS). We should not send a crewman to Ames for 50 per cent of his time between now and ASSESS and 100 per cent of his time for the ASSESS program, which is what Bill Lenoir says it will take. It is all or nothing. I vote zero.'' Kerwin again added his thoughts in a memo to Mattingly, in which he suggested that ASSESS was ''the engineering equivalent of baseline testing on astronauts - its good for them (Ames) but not for us (JSC). What can a pilot do on ASSESS except fly the plane? [I] recommend sending a scientist only if the payload is proportionally rewarding to him, as determined by him.''

In July 1976, Robert Parker addressed both the role of the MS on Shuttle and participation in ASSESS-II in a memo to fellow astronauts.20 Parker tackled the question of how seriously the role of MS on ASSESS-II would be viewed by the ''outside world'' (Goddard Space Flight Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, Headquarters and others). How other centres viewed the role was not how JSC would view it, nor how they would like the other centres to look upon the role. Parker suggested that JSC should ''go along with the others and play like it [ASSESS] is real,'' unless they had the power to completely terminate the participation of an MS in the simulation. It was also not clear, even at JSC, that such participation would be used to revise the role of an MS on a Shuttle flight. With the re-wording of the documentation defining the new role, and with the first selection process that would include ''mission specialists'' about to begin, Parker made it clear that the MS role in ASSESS-II would be important in the years to come and that JSC and the FOD should actively participate in order to highlight their point of view in the wider discussion. Parker also indicated that MS definition documentation could result in "a bloody fight over a piece of paper which we may or may not win.''

With respect to ASSESS-II, Parker reaffirmed the plan to assign Bill Lenoir to the flight due to his experience and qualifications. "If we are going to treat ASSESS-II seriously, he [Lenoir] should be our participant. As a Skylab back-up crewman, he has the operational background to be able to crucially evaluate the operations of ASSESS.'' Parker also noted that a real space mission would not be prepared using several mission specialists on a rotating basis to avoid wasting time in bringing other crew members up to speed. Though it would alleviate the requirement to replace a crewman on other significant activities, this would not support the JSC argument that any MS should be in a position to take charge of the payload in flight. "He has got to be around enough on a continuing basis to carve out this responsibility,'' Parker wrote. There was great confidence that Lenoir could do this, regardless of the paper positions of MSFC and others. The expected time allocation was given as 30-50 per cent after September 1976 and over 50 per cent from February 1977, increasing to 100 per cent in April for the planned May 1977 flight.

As for MS system training, Parker wrote, "An issue as far as training is concerned is the question of how much knowledge of the 990 [Convair aircraft] is required and how much training will be required to get it; after all, we expect the MS to be knowledgeable of orbiter systems and limitations.'' But the point of the discussions taking place was not the systems role on the Shuttle, but the science input during a mission. By using ASSESS, the experience would help define the overall role further: "In summary, if we are going to participate [in ASSESS-II]... and it would seem that unless we can completely squelch it then we should participate ... it certainly behoves us to do our usual super job.''

Later in July 1976, Ken Mattingly issued a CB Discussion Item to all current astronauts on the subject of Spacelab design and integration.21 Opening the discussion, Mattingly stated: "I have been concerned for some time that we (CB) were not sufficiently active in the Spacelab design evolution. During the past few weeks, my concern has intensified. I now have the feeling that not only CB, but also FOD, JSC, STS and NASA may be missing the boat. There is even some indication that ESA may also be internally less than coordinated.''

According to the former Apollo astronaut, the programme fell into a variety of groupings. His memo clarified the amount of participation that the astronauts had, or wished to have, in developing procedures and participation in new manned space programmes in the 1970s. Mattingly's memo also observed that:

• The role of the MS was not agreed within NASA.

• There was apparently a major lack of agreement between JSC, MSFC, and perhaps Headquarters, concerning the FOD's role in Spacelab operations.

• There seemed to be a general attitude that crew interfaces would come later and would reflect the design rather than drive it.

• There did not appear to be anyone who was universally accepted as being responsible for the operational aspect of the design. There did not appear to be an operations-oriented plan for Spacelab testing, checkout or integration into the STS.

• There were numerous loose ends in the hardware/software interface area.

Mattingly was convinced that on the day of flight, NASA would ''bear the lion's share of public responsibility'' and that the major responsibility for ''pulling off one of these flights will ultimately come to roost with FOD. I believe our resources will be severely taxed when this day comes; in fact, we're probably already over our heads. Since we have not been asked to participate, it seems reasonable to ask why that might be. I suspect our internal disagreements have kept us from becoming more aggressive, even more than our reluctance to embarrass our European counterparts. Therefore, I propose that a detailed straw-man outlining the MS role and responsibilities must be our primary activity. We should define our approach and then, through FOD, sell our concept formally up the line to Headquarters. Once this is accomplished, I believe many of our other problems will work themselves out.''

To help solve these problems, Mattingly requested that ideas addressing these issues should be in the form of ''a data dump on Joe Kerwin ASAP.''

Over the next few months, Kerwin worked on these issues with regard to ASSESS-II and in September 1976 issued a memo on MS participation in the flight.22 The plan emphasised that the nominated MS should operate as per the revised crew functions definition and that he should not be said to serve as payload specialist or perform the functions of a payload specialist, as it was important to clearly establish the MS function in experiment operation as much as the PS function. It was also important to include the assigned MS in summaries and Crew Activity Plans, post-test reports, and responsibility for the submission of final crew reports. ''Training coordination should be provided to schedule payload and integration training for the MS, and provision should be made for a European training visit to familiarise him with European experiments, although he will not be prime in any of these on the ASSESS mission.'' It was clear that the development of the MS role would progress beyond ASSESS to the selection of the first Shuttle-era astronauts, planned for later in 1977.

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