DynCorp International team members working in support of NASA are participating in an innovative training program designed to teach astronauts basic aircraft maintenance skills for use on long duration space missions on the International Space Station (ISS).
DI aviation mechanics worked in partnership with U.S. Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) and NASA astronauts to develop the concepts and methods necessary for the aerospace vehicle and systems maintenance training program.
ISS Field Maintenance Training program
As part of the ISS Field Maintenance Training program, trainees perform aviation maintenance tasks for an average of 30 to 35 hours per week, rotating for a week each on the hangar floor, specialty shops (engine, sheet metal, hydraulics), and avionics shop. Their focus includes performing mechanical, hydraulic and electrical repair actions on NASA T-38 aircraft and equipment, under close supervision by many of DI’s most experienced and knowledgeable mechanics. Throughout the program, astronaut trainees are exposed to numerous repair tasks directly applicable to those needed by crews on the ISS.
“Very few aircraft mechanics in the world will ever have this opportunity,” said Jim Snowden, DynCorp International executive program manager. “Our team members feel much more connected to ISS missions and will be watching the results of their contributions in action as ‘their’ astronauts live and work 250 miles above the earth.”
Snowden also cited several additional advantages of this collaborative program. “The mechanics, in addition to their exceptional technical breadth and depth, possess terrific communication skills to help impart their knowledge. The proximity of Ellington Field to the Johnson Space Center main campus keeps training expenses low. The trainees worked on flight-certified equipment and they performed actual repairs on actual aircraft – not mock-ups or other low fidelity substitutes. Additionally there is a very high degree of similarity between certain ISS systems and jet aircraft system designs and functions.”
Augmenting Astronaut Training
The astronaut syllabi, until recently, provided fewer than 40 hours of maintenance training during the intense two and a half years or more of astronaut preparation before their missions to the ISS. Originally, equipment on orbit was intended to be removed and replaced in the event of failure. The Space Shuttle had the capacity to reliably deliver large replacement units and return the faulty equipment to Earth. However, with the end of the Space Shuttle era, ISS partners recognize that their repair capability and capacity must extend more deeply into the Station systems, components and sub elements.
Not all astronauts necessarily have backgrounds that include hands-on mechanical, electrical or tool-use aptitudes. Therefore, the opportunity to provide hands-on instruction with wide variety of common or specialized tools was valuable, as is the verbal instruction about tool use, troubleshooting concepts, technical data and safety.