When John Glenn returns to space Thursday, Augusta's Susan Still will help his crew get there and back home safely.
Lt. Cmdr. Still, who has piloted the space shuttle twice, is the CAPCOM -- or capsule communicator -- for the flight.
Stationed at mission control in Houston, she will serve as liaison between astronauts and NASA flight directors during launch and landing.
"We're kind of an interpreter," Lt. Cmdr. Still said.
When Mr. Glenn first voyaged to space in 1962, the CAPCOM's voice was the last one he heard before liftoff. Fellow Mercury Scott Carpenter spoke for the nation with his three-word wish -- "Godspeed, John Glenn."
Don't expect Lt. Cmdr. Still to repeat those words this time around. She doesn't have any communication with the shuttle until after liftoff, so the goodwill message will come from somebody at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
Listen for Lt. Cmdr. Still's voice shortly after liftoff, when the shuttle makes its 180-degree roll.
Lt. Cmdr. Still will be communicating with the pilot and commander, leading them through the steps to take the shuttle into orbit. Most of what she says is scripted.
At the end of the mission, Lt. Cmdr. Still will again take the microphone to guide the shuttle to a safe landing.
"The only time I say anything that's not written down or given to me in advance is when I get to welcome them home after landing," she said last week in a telephone interview from Houston.
What will she say to the Discovery crew?
"I'll make it up then," she said.
Here are some abbreviations you might hear during Thursday's Discovery launch, when John Glenn returns to space:
SRBs: solid rocket boosters
APU: auxiliary power unit
ET: external tank
MECO: main engine cutoff
GLS: ground launch sequencer
MS: mission specialist
RTLS abort: return to landing site abort
ATO: abort to orbit
AOA: abort once around (the Earth)
CAPCOM: capsule communicator
STS: space transportation system
BFS: backup flight system
OMS: orbital maneuvering system
SSME: space shuttle main engines
GPC: general purpose computers
MEC: main engine controller
IEA: integrated electronic assembly
MLS: microwave landing system
VFR: visual flight rules
TACAN: tactical air command and navigation system
TAL: transatlantic landing
OV-103: orbital vehicle 103 (another name for shuttle Discovery)
Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Amy Joyner can be reached at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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