NASA has a new $350 million Mission Control Center in Houston, a room full of sleek consoles that will enable it to command a orbiting space shuttle and a space station simultaneously - with room to spare.
It reminds John Muratore, the center's developer, of the bridge on the starship Enterprise in ``Star Trek.''
``This is the future,'' he says. ``This is different from all the other flight control rooms in the Johnson Space Center.''
NASA will use the old Mission Control, with its cramped control rooms and bulky consoles, until the new center, with two control rooms, begins operations next May. The biggest difference is the use of modern computers.
In the old rooms, each of the 204 flight positions was custom-made, making the equipment expensive to maintain. The 197 computer workstations in the new center are identical and can be found in many retail computer stores. Any control-center worker can sit at any terminal and get the data necessary for the assignment. That flexibility allows a particular control room to accommodate a shuttle flight today and a trip to Mars tomorrow, Muratore said.
And while the old computer terminals were monochrome displays of numbers, the new ones offer full-color displays with 3-D graphics.