A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Position-Finding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2018 Jun 27, 12:43 -0700
Umm. That story sounds like an urban legend. First, it has car-happy bourgeois Americans contrasted against public transport-using Russians. Well, of course! The pitiful babushkas who work at Russian Mission Control cannot have cars! See, that's how an urban legend will get you fantasizing, but if you visit Russian MCC in Google Street View (link below), you will find rows and rows of new model cars parked on the streets around the facility. They drive.
Second, the story confounds the use of a time standard with the requirement for a common sleep cycle. Clearly one could, and should, use UT for all time management aboard the station without requiring that the astronauts be in bed by 21:00 UT every night. The practical sleep cycle for the station and ground controllers is independent of the time standard, right?
Finally, the idea that Russian mission controllers are limited by the Moscow subway schedule is the most "urban legendary" element of the story. Where did this tale originate? Who are the people re-telling it? Is there any documentation for it? Or it just one of those "fun forward" things making the rounds, a cute whaddayaknow story?
Russian ISS Mission Control is in Korolyov, in the outer ring of suburbs of Moscow. The Moscow Metro, their "subway," doesn't go near it. I estimate the nearest actual subway stop is eight miles away. Of course, there's a bus and a commuter rail line with a stop about a mile from the MCC. You can visit Russian Mission Control in Google Maps here. Ask it for commuting directions from central Moscow. You'll be on a bus for an hour. The Metro only covers a short portion of the trip in central Moscow. Do mission controllers all live at the Kremlin?? Are there no homes, no apartments in Korolyov? And who do all those cars belong to parked on the streets outside Russian Mission Control? :)
Like any urban legend, there is, no doubt, an element of truth in this story which has been valid since NASA's earliest involvement with Mir (hey, remember Mir? That was fun, wasn't it?). Russian tracking and communication assets are largely limited to the soil of Russia and Kazakhstan. Given the large number of Progress resupply missions over the history of Mir and ISS, and given that all manned flights to the ISS have been aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft for the past seven years, and given that the Zvezda module, the primary control module of the ISS or the "bridge" euphemistically, is Russian, it makes good sense to work on a Russian communication schedule. Nearly all Progress and Soyuz docking events occur while in communication with Russian ground stations. Is that explanation enough for working on a Russian schedule?