This is the second year in a row I work at the Mission Control Center of Houston as a Ground Controller during a Thanksgiving Holiday. There are a few traditions celebrated here in MCC that make it all worth it while sacrificing family time or sleep (for those working the graveyard shift).
Among the traditions, the crew onboard the International Space Station (ISS) calls down to MCC using the space to ground voice signals and thank the Flight Controllers for supporting space operations on the ground. This usually occurs when the crew is awake, and the Flight Controllers supporting the 2nd shift are the lucky ones to hear the message from the crew. However, this does get handed over to the oncoming Flight Controllers supporting the next shifts (we cover 3 shifts per day, well, at least the Houston GCs for sure). Hearing messages of gratitude from the crew is always uplifting and encouraging, the work of the Flight Controllers is recognized for all that is done on the ground to make things happen in space.
The public doesn’t realize besides the Flight Controllers supporting 24/7, there are engineers and technicians supporting as well. At least from my console perspective as a Houston GC, we have Johnson TV and Mission Video supporting all the video operations coming from onboard the ISS and helping us send the crew video signal to the crew so they are able to watch Football (yes, the crew stays awake for this) and other TV programs. Support is also provided by other 24/7 Ground Control consoles, such as the NOC (Network Operations Control), SO (Security Officer), Support Center, Houston Voice, and Comm Tech (Communications Technician) who privatizes Family Conferences between the crew and the families on such a special day.
There are other things that occur on this day in the Flight Control Room. A good number of Flight Controllers contribute to our Thanksgiving diets by bringing all kinds of baked goodies and some side dishes. We all get a Thanksgiving meal in appreciation for working during this holiday, and best of all, we all get to watch football together (if you happen to be working the Orbit 3 shift) along with the crew. A favorite task on the ground for the Houston GC is to actually change the icon of the ISS in the world map to a “turkey”. It is funny seeing a tukey orbit the earth entering day and night cycles, in a way reminding us how thankful we should be to live on this planet, and how despite moments of darkness in the world, we should always look forward to seeing the light again.
The things I am grateful for as a Houston GC are many, among them: Getting to see my family when I’m not covering the shift, the family visiting me during an LOS (Loss of Signal), the team of Ground Controllers I work with, a supportive management who personally makes it out here to greet us and thank us for our work, the Flight Controller Colleagues I get to work with during a shift realizing we are not forced to be here, but are grateful to have this awesome job and to serve our Crew Members in Space to make their lives easier from the ground. After all, we go home to our families at the end of the shift, a privilege the crew in space doesn’t have. We are greatful for such sacrifice on their part in the name of space exploration.