Rendezvous Docking Simulator

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Facility 1244 RDS

Center: Langley Research Center
Location: Hampton, Virginia
Year Built: 1963
Historic Eligibility: National Historic Landmark
Important Tests: Gemini, Apollo, Jet Shoes

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[top] History

The Rendezvous Docking Simulator was used to train Gemini and Apollo astronauts in docking procedures they had to master before attempting to land on the moon. NASA engineers decided that the best method of accomplishing President Kennedy's goal of a moon landing by 1969 was through a lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR). The LOR called for a single Saturn V launch of two spacecraft into lunar orbit. One would remain in orbit while the other would descend to the moon and then boost itself back into lunar orbit, rendezvous and dock with the mother ship before returning to earth. To accomplish this task it was essential that Apollo astronauts be trained in all aspects and problems likely to arise in an attempt to dock the Apollo Command and Lunar Excursion Modules in lunar orbit. Failure to dock would result in the failure of the entire mission and the likely loss of the lives of the astronauts. The Rendezvous Docking Simulator gave the astronauts the experience of docking the spacecraft in a safe environment that closely resembled a space environment. Only when the Apollo astronauts had successfully mastered rendezvous and docking skills in the Rendezvous Docking Simulator would NASA give permission for the attempt to land on the moon.

NASA Langley Test Pilot-Astronaut Robert Champine trained with all seven of the original Mercury astronauts. Bob had been performing many flights with the Docking Simulator since the early 1960s. His work to perfect the docking and rendezvous maneuvers of spacecraft led to the flawless operations performed today.

Following the completion of the Apollo program, the Rendezvous Docking Simulator was modified to solve open-and-closed loop pilot control problems, aircraft landing approaches, simulator validation studies and passenger ride quality studies. The name of the facility was changed to the Real-Time Dynamic Simulator. At present, this facility is inactive.

[top] Photos

[top] Rendezvous Docking

L-1282.jpgL-1281.jpg19611962 Glenn-Procedures Trainer1962 Simulation Controls1963 John W. Young19641964 Rendezvous1964 Apollo Rendezvous1964 Docking Simulation1964 Gemini Spacecraft Simulation1964 Gemini Docking Simulation1964 Multi-exposure1964 Test Subject1965 Reconfigured for Apollo1966-06-01 Building Layout1967 Docking Simulator

[top] Controller

The docking facility involved a full-size model of the pilot's compartment and nose section of the Apollo command module, associated drive systems, a jet selection and controller interface unit, a general-purpose analog computer, and a full-size model of the Lunar Module ascent stage. There were several rate-command modes the pilots could practice on. Actions of the simulator were controlled with the device pictured below. An interface unit, separate from the analog computer, was required to convert the alternating-current signals from the controller to direct-current signals, and to simulate control-system switching, priority logic, and thrust dynamics.

For more information on the controller and various modes, see this document.

L-65-6460.1.JPGAttitude Controller.JPG

[top] OMEGA

OMEGA, the one-man extravehicular gimbal arrangement, was a Langley-developed device. It was used in the hangar as part of the astronaut training to simulate space walks.


[top] Additional Photos

[top] Film Clips

1961:JFK's 'Landing on the Moon' speech

1989 Apollo Program Panel Discussion

Rendezvous Docking Simulator

[top] Interviews

Lee Person on His Career: July 21, 2010

[top] Documents

1961 Request for Rendezvous Docking Station

1961 Rendezvous Docking Facility Completion Schedule

1963 LaRC Simulation Facilities For Manned Space Missions

1964 Astronautics And Aeronautics

1964 LaRC Simulators and Studies Related to Space Rendezvous and Docking

1964 Static Rendezvous Simulator

1966 Rendezvous Docking Simulator

1966 Projection Planetarium

1966 Technical Facilities Resume for Rendezvous Docking Simulator

1966 Technical Facilities Resume for Projection Planetarium

1966 A Full-Sized Pilot-Controlled Docking Simulation of the Apollo Command and Service Module with the Lunar Module. Jack E. Pennington, Howard G. Hatch, Jr., and Norman R. Driscoll. TN D-3688.

1967 Dynamic Simulation of Lunar Module Docking With Apollo Command Module in Lunar Orbit

1969 Simulator Development Recognition Note

1974 Real-Time Dynamic Simulator Fact Sheet

1985 Nomination to National Register of Historic Landmarks

1985 National Register of Historic Landmarks photos

1990 Memo on moving simulator to the US Space Foundation

1995 Remote Pilot-Controlled Docking With Television

1998-11-30 Heritage Assets

2001 Man in Space

Aviation: From Sand Dunes to Sonic Booms

Paragraph Published in Virginia Landmarks Register on the Rendezvous Docking Simulator

Pilot Training and Preflight Preparation

[top] For Students and Teachers

The Mercury Seven. (L-R) Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton (Photo from Patterson* collection)

NASA Langley Research Center hosted most training for many astronauts and many of the engineers and scientists were available to train and work with the astronauts prior to their flights. Simulator training took place in the large hanger on the Langley Campus. The trainers were suspended from the hanger's ceiling and astronauts sitting in the trainers would maneuver the modules, simulating their future space experiences. The astronauts took graduate space science courses, learning about reentry from space, astronomy, and how to navigate using stars. A large tank, the hydrodynamic tank, was used to practice exiting the capsule. Once techniques were perfected in the tank, the astronauts took the capsule into the river behind the Center for practice in the elements.

More on Astronaut Training

[top] Simulators

  • The Air Lubricated Free Attitude Trainer: This trainer allowed astronauts to practice controlling the pitch, yaw, and roll of their space craft using windows displaying Earth, the moon, and celestial bodies as references.
  • The Procedures Trainer, built by McDonnell, allowed the astronauts to practice controlling the attitude of the space craft (the pitch, roll, and yaw) while also experiencing space suit pressurization, noise, and heat.
  • The Environmental Control Simulator was placed in a decompression chamber, and astronauts would practice using the module controls in pressurized situations that were similar to the conditions they would experience during their trip to space and back.
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