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A Mission Control Center for children was constructed to manage a pretend launch of the space shuttle. I wanted to play-out the make believe mission with nothing but LED lamps to tell the story; both 7-segment displays and graphic displays with LED lights strategically mounted. I tried to keep it straight forward and sequential with required child interaction so they felt they were really directing a space shuttle mission.

The Mission Control Center is in a self-contained wooden box that is painted a silver/gray color to look like metal. This makes it easy to transport. The control center is made up of smaller panels that have specific functions or show specific information concerning the make believe shuttle launch. The whole scenario is controlled by an Arduino sketch. Some audio is also added by using a small sound board with realistic recordings that are triggered when a specific control button is pushed.

Countdown begins at 10 minutes before liftoff or T-600 seconds. During the countdown, a series of warning lights come on 10 seconds before a pre-flight system must be approved for the launch. Simultaneously, a “heads-up” display of the shuttle on the inside of the lid will visually identify the system to be checked. The child must move the associated toggle switch up to give the OK, consequently a green indicator light comes on and the red indicator light goes off. The child must repeat this for each pre-flight system approval that is alerted. There are a total of seven pre-flight system checks.

You can stop the countdown at any time by pushing the “Hold” button. Once the “problem” has been corrected, you push the countdown “Start” button again to resume the countdown from where it was stopped. Once, each pre-flight system has been checked as OK by the child, the countdown will reach zero.

At that time, the green “Go” or “Blast-Off” oversized mushroom launch button is pushed to launch the shuttle with its associated rockets and fuel tank. This “Go” button will not work until the countdown is complete (down to zero). At lift-off, a lot starts to happen:

1. A recorded NASA broadcast of a shuttle lift-off plays for about 35 seconds.
2. A couple of LED lights under the middle picture of the space shuttle launch flicker to simulate the rockets firing.
3. The child can follow the initial powered launch on the top middle map of the eastern seacoast as it leaves Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.
4. Mock flight trajectory statistics start tracking the progress of the launch (altitude, speed, mission time) on the top right panel.

In real time, powered flight lasts for about 8 ½ minutes. As with the countdown, the child has certain tasks that must be completed to simulate a successful launch. Again, a green light will come on 10 seconds before a task must be completed. I included four tasks the child should complete by throwing the toggle switch up so the green indicator light comes on and the red indicator light goes off. The four powered flight tasks are:

1. Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) Full Throttle
2. SRB Separation
3. Shuttle Roll Up
4. MECO (Main Engine Cut Off)

The indicator lights for these tasks correspond to the top middle powered flight tracking map of the east coast of the United States that I mentioned before.

Once the shuttle achieves orbit, a child can track its path around the earth on the world map mounted on the inside of the lid. Nine tracking stations are indicated by an individual LED light. From my research, it seems the average orbit around the earth last 90 minutes at approximately 17,500 MPH. So each tracking station lights up approximately every 10 minutes as it tracks the shuttle. Once the child is satisfied with their shuttle mission, they can end the simulation at any time by pushing the red mushroom “Abort” Button.”

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