Young space commandersPaula Aven Gladych
The most famous mission LASP controls is Keppler, a NASA mission that looks for planets going around other stars. To date, Keppler has found 2,740 potential planets orbiting 2,036 stars, many of those Earth-size planets. Twenty professionals and 20 students support operations at mission control.
Working at the control center is a real job for real pay, said Bill Possel, director of mission operations and data systems at LASP. The organization selects between five and ten students a year to spend 10 weeks of their summer learning everything from orbital mechanics to the specifics of each mission the lab manages. Written and practical exams ensure that only the best students end up working for mission control. Students must commit to working 20 hours a week and being on call whenever there is a problem with one of the satellites.
"Students get firsthand experience of what it is like to operate a very large and very expensive satellite," Possel said.
Mission control has been in operation since 1981 and has flown up to five spacecraft at one time.
The satellites have scientific instruments on board. It is mission control's job to change the settings on the instruments to get the most science they can out of each satellite. Mission control also maintains the satellites themselves, making sure they are positioned correctly and that all parts are functioning as they should.
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