The Mission Control Center, Houston

by Hamish Lindsay

with Gene Kranz, Apollo Flight Director

MIssion Control Emblem

The Houston Mission Control emblem developed by space artist Bob McCall.

Image: Hamish Lindsay. Reproduced courtesy of Gene Kranz.
Click on the image for a larger version.
(See this note about the origin of the emblem.)

Tom Sheehan and Chris Kraft

The Mission Operations Control Room during the Apollo 15 lunar landing.

Scan: Hamish Lindsay. Click on the image for a larger version.

At the heart of the manned space flight missions was the Mission Control Center HOUSTON (MCC-H) in the Mission Operations Wing of Building 30.

Inside the windowless building were two Mission Operations Control Rooms (MOCR) on floors two and three. The second floor MOCR was used for three Apollo Saturn 1B Missions, and Apollo 5-7 and 9, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions. The third floor MOCR was used for all the Gemini and Apollo lunar missions. Outside the control room but on the same floor were all the Staff Support Rooms (SSRs) housing the technical specialists responsible for supporting their counterparts in the MOCR.

The first floor of Building 30 was the Real Time Computer Complex (RTCC). The tracking stations interfaced with the MOCRs through the Communications, Command and Telemetry System (CCATS) on the first floor.

Plan of MCC 3rd floor

A plan of the 3rd floor of the Mission Operations Wing of Building 30.

Scan: Tom Sheehan. Click on the image for a larger version.

The Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR), was the principal command and decision area for each mission, and was the “Houston” frequently referred to. The centre of a complex world-wide communications network to tracking stations, ships and aircraft, it had 19 main areas of responsibilities shown in the diagram below.

Tom Sheehan and Chris Kraft

Click on the image for a much larger version.

1. Director of Flight Operations – Overall responsibility for the mission interface to program Management.

2. Mission Director from NASA Headquarters. The primary interface between NASA Headquarters and the Flight Control Team

3. The Department of Defense Representative – Primary interface with NASA for any Department of Defense support required during a mission, including recovery ships and DoD controlled tracking resources..

4. The Public Affairs Officer – was responsible for providing information on the mission to the public. The television and radio voice of Mission Control.

5. The Flight Director – the team leader, was responsible to the Mission Director for detailed control of the mission from launch (tower clear) to splashdown and assumed the duties of the Mission Director in his absence. In real time was responsible to take any actions needed for crew safety and mission success.

6. INCO – Instrumentation and Communications Officer – With the advent of dual spacecraft operations, lunar surface operations, science TV, and extensive data recovery, a new operating position was added, beginning with the Apollo 11 mission.

7. Operations and Procedures Officer – was responsible to the Flight Director for the detailed implementation of the Mission Control Center/Ground Operational Support Systems mission control procedures.

8. The Assistant Flight Director – was responsible to the Flight Director for detailed control of the mission and assumed the duties of the Flight Director in his absence.

9. Flight Activities Officer – Responsible for real time flight planning and related crew procedures. Maintained track of crew activities in relation to mission time lines.

10. Network Controller – had detailed operational control of the world wide Ground Operational Support System, which included the tracking stations.

11. Flight Surgeons – directed all operational medical activities and crew’s medical status.

12. Spacecraft Communicator – or Capcom, an astronaut who provided all the voice communications between the ground and the spacecraft.

13. Vehicle Systems Engineers – monitored the performance of all electrical, mechanical, communications, environmental and life support and EVA systems on the spacecraft.

14. Booster Systems Engineer – monitored the 3 Saturn V stages during the launch phase.

15. Retrofire Officer – Kept track of abort and return to earth options.

16. Flight Dynamics Officer – monitored the flight trajectory, and planned all major spacecraft manoeuvres. Recommended whether to “Go” or “Abort” a mission.

17. Guidance Officer – monitored the spacecraft computers, the Inertial Guidance and Navigation Systems, and the abort guidance system.

18. The Maintenance and Operations Supervisor – was responsible for the performance and status of the Mission Control Center equipment.

19. Experiments/Lunar Surface Operations Officer. During lunar surface activities an Experiments Officer directed scientific activities and relayed information from the science teams from the booster console for lunar surface as well as orbital science.

Backing the above front line operators in the MOCR were 7 Staff Support Rooms (SSR):

1. Flight Dynamics – to monitor all aspects of powered flight concerning crew safety and orbital insertion, evaluate and recommend modification of trajectories to meet mission objectives.

2. Vehicle Systems – to monitor detailed status of trends of flight systems and components of the spacecraft, and overcoming in-flight equipment failures.

3. Life Systems – to monitor physiological and environmental information from the spacecraft.

4. Flight Crew – to co-ordinate non-medical flight crew activities and any scientific experiments attempted during the flight.

5. Networks – to schedule, monitor, and direct network activities and readiness checks.

6. Operations and Procedures/INCO – to provide detailed technical and administrative support and communications and data systems management.

7. ALSEP/Lunar Science Room – to provide the support for the lunar scientists and management for the science equipment that would remain on the moon after the crews departure.


The Mission Control emblem

During Apollo 17 Gene Kranz was feeling frustrated and despondent – it was the last Apollo Mission, the end of an era. He met space artist Bob McCall in the cafeteria over a cup of coffee, and suggested they produce an emblem, like the Apollo missions, for the Control Center. Kranz wrote, “I spoke emotionally, from my heart and gut, about the control teams and crews, and our life in Mission Control.”

Over the next six months McCall developed the emblem and inscribed his final rendering with, “To Mission Control, with great respect and admiration, Bob McCall, 1973.”

Sigma was chosen as the dominant element, representing the total mission team. In addition it represents the individual flight control teams from all programs past, present and future. Within the teams it represents all engineering, scientific and operations disciplines in support of the spacecraft.

The rocket launch represents the dynamic elements of space and the initial escape from our environment and the thrust to explore the Universe.

The remaining elements are the Earth, planets and the stars. The Earth is our home and will forever be serviced by both manned and unmanned spacecraft in order to improve the quality of our present home. The stars and planets represent a major source of study as well as the challenge of exploration for future mission control teams.

The border contains symbols to represent the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Programs, the three major programs that have been supported by the team. The four stars represent the present and future programs: Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, Earth Resources and the Shuttle.

The wording was chosen to stress the very positive attitude used by the Mission Control team to assure crew safety and mission success.

“Achievement through Excellence” is the standard for the flight controllers’ work. It represents an individual’s committment to a belief, to craftsmanship and perseverance.


(The Mission Control emblem is used with the kind permission of Gene Kranz.)