“A Passion for Space: Adventures of a Pioneering Female NASA Flight Controller,” by Marianne J. Dyson, Springer Praxis Books, 2016, 381 pages, paperback, $39.99
On July 20, 1969, 14-year-old Marianne Jakmides watched Neil Armstrong live from the moon on a portable black-and-white television. She set a goal: becoming an astronaut. Within a decade, as Marianne Dyson, she was part of the Mission Control team.
“A Passion for Space: Adventures of a Pioneering Female NASA Flight Controller” by Marianne J. Dyson recounts the adventures of a space pioneer. Dyson never became an astronaut, but she was on the team flying the Space Shuttle.
Dyson worked for the Flight Activities Branch of Johnson Space Center from 1979 through 1984. She was in the Mission Control Building during the first five shuttle missions, working in the flight activities officer support room and as flight activities officer for STS-4.
Dyson describes her voyage from a 14-year-old to a NASA flight controller, her experiences as a flight controller and her life outside NASA. She found a husband who shared her dream of space adventure, Thor Dyson. Both joined NASA as newlyweds while at Rice, becoming the first husband-wife team of NASA flight controllers.
Dyson relates what went on in Mission Control. She makes it accessible to those uninitiated in the baffling jargon of NASA, translating acronyms and concepts into understandable English. Ironically, what resonates most are the changes between the 1980s and today. The shuttle’s then cutting-edge computers had only 486 kilobytes of memory. Then that was enormous. Today a single low-resolution digital image uses more memory. While parked at night in a remote location at a NASA parking lot, Dyson discovers her car’s headlights do not work. She cannot telephone for help without a long trek back to the building. Today, she could make that call from her cellphone.
The contrast between the high-tech background of the shuttle program and demands of everyday life also add to the book. Dyson and her husband may be making history as shuttle flight controllers, but they still need to make dinner after their shifts.
“A Passion for Space” captures the excitement of the early shuttle program, while grounding it in the realities of living in late 20th century America.