Mitchell, an engineer at the Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Ala., helped to design the International Space Station's
Common Berthing Mechanism.|
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
Miss., native Brian Mitchell recognized for helping space station
'get it together'
April 11, 2002
- It’s up to space-suited astronauts to put the International Space
Station together, but Vicksburg native Brian Mitchell is one of
the people behind the scenes who makes it look so easy.
engineer at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.,
has been recognized for his work on a piece of hardware critical
to assembling the orbiting outpost. He was part of a three-person
team that received the Eagle Manned Mission Success Award March
22 at the National Space Club’s 45th annual Goddard Dinner
in Washington, D.C.
The other recipients
were Al Parrish, senior mechanisms engineer at NASA’s Kennedy
Space Center, Fla.; and Harry Warden, senior mechanical designer
with The Boeing Company in Huntsville.
The three were
cited for “the outstanding success of the International Space
Station Common Berthing Mechanism Team that paved the way to a nearly
flawless on-orbit assembly of the Phase II elements of the International
Center was a key leader in the design and development of the unique
international laboratory in space. Today, the Payload Operations
Center at Marshall manages all science research experiment operations
on board the Station. The center is also home for coordination of
the mission planning work of a variety of international sources,
all science payload deliveries and retrieval, and payload training
and payload safety programs for the Station crew and ground personnel.
Mechanism serves as the connection point between all the Station’s
non-Russian pressurized lab and living modules. At 80 inches across,
it is the largest-diameter mating interface ever developed for a
pressurized spacecraft. The complex device includes alignment guides
and capture latches that align and capture adjoining modules during
assembly and 16 motorized bolts that lock the modules tightly together.
nomination noted that Mitchell served as the “technical conscience”
of the government/industry team responsible for the Berthing Mechanism.
Mitchell was the lead engineer on the project and later was selected
as sub-system manager of the Berthing Mechanism and common hatch.
He later served as the Node 1 element manager for the International
Space Station program office. Among his contributions was an Intra-vehicular
Seal that could be installed by the Station crew from inside the
modules to ensure any possible air leaks are eliminated.
Berthing Mechanisms were launched to the Station in 1998 as part
of the Node 1 module, named Unity, aboard the Space Shuttle. They
have performed flawlessly in six missions, including the berthing
of the Unity module, Destiny lab module, Quest airlock, and several
dockings of the Italian-built Multi Purpose Logistics Modules that
carry food, equipment and other supplies to and from the Station
on Shuttle missions.
sponsored by AXA Corp. of Bethesda, Md., recognizes a person or
group “who by direct involvement in mission development, preparation
or execution, has made a significant contribution to Manned Space
Flight Mission success during the previous year.” It is intended
that the recipients be at the working level – not associated
with the achievement only by virtue of a management role.
the Marshall Center after college in 1984. Until he joined the Environmental
Control and Life Support System group at Marshall Center as a design
lead last year, he had spent his entire career working on the Space
Station berthing mechanism. In the process, his life became closely
tied to this complex aluminum ring orbiting 17,000 miles over the
to Houston in October 2000 to support the first mission to use the
Berthing Mechanism from the Mission Evaluation Room at Johnson Space Center,” he recalled recently. “The day I arrived, my
mom called and said my dad was in the hospital. I flew back home,
but my dad passed away 10 minutes before I arrived after a long
battle with cancer. It was an emotional roller coaster because I
worked so many years on this hardware and wanted to be a part of
its first mission, but I knew I needed to be with my family. I wish
my dad could have seen me receive this award.”
up in Vicksburg and graduated from the University of Mississippi
in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
His mother, Loyce Mitchell, and two brothers, Joey and Rickey Mitchell,
still live in Vicksburg. His youngest brother David Mitchell, resides
Mechanism was a very complex device and had to be compatible with
modules built by NASA’s international partners, as well as
the Shuttle robot arm that would be used to install Station components,
Mitchell said. It was subjected to extensive realistic testing,
including sophisticated environmental and computer simulations that
merged with actual hardware tests using the Berthing Mechanism.
It was literally a hardware-loving engineer’s dream.
so cool and so interesting that I’d go to sleep thinking about
it and wake up thinking about it,” said Mitchell. “We
were real nervous the first couple of berthing missions, but now
it’s become just a standard operation. We expected some type
of problems, but we haven’t had any. We had a great team –
some of the best analytical people, test people and design people
in the Space Station program.”
18-year career with NASA, Mitchell has received numerous awards
including the Exceptional Service Medal from NASA Headquarters,
the Center Directors Commendation from both MSFC and JSC, the “Silver
Snoopy” presented by the astronaut corps, and he was also a
Space Flight Awareness honoree.
and photos for this story were provided by Marshall Space Flight