What’s that flashing in Space Shuttle Endeavour’s cockpit?

, | Games

It’s hard not to have Space Shuttle fever here in Los Angeles right now. The Endeavour will trundle through our streets tomorrow on the way to her final resting place at the California Science Center (suck it, Houston!). It’s a one-float parade, but with a single float so awesome that it doesn’t need the rest of the parade. I’ve never seen a Space Shuttle in person before, but I’ve seen various fighter planes, and specifically a B2 stealth bomber doing a flyover at an air show. Through my modern moviegoer eyes, it looked like a special effect. It was too cool to be possible. My brain told me it must have been CG. Shut up, brain. I expect an in-person Space Shuttle will look the same.

While checking out the best places to check out Endeavour in person, I came across this amazing hi-res interactive imagery of the Endeavour’s powered up cockpit, courtesy of some fancy online service called Gigapan. The imagery is amazing to me for a couple of reasons. I’m old enough to remember that when I was a kid and I flew on an airplane, the stewardess would ask if I wanted to see the cockpit. Of course I did! So she’d march me up the aisle through that little door and into a bewildering wonderland of dials, switches, and levers, all manned by fatherly pilots and copilots. I even got little plastic wings I could pin to the place on my chest where Cub Scout merit badges would go if I had ever earned them. I’m not sure when they stopped doing cockpit visits for other kids. Certainly after 9/11. But I never stopped wanting to go up there into the cockpit. Even today, I can’t help but lean into the aisle and peer up the length of the plane hoping they’ll leave the cockpit door open for a while. So it’s pretty amazing to virtually marvel at Endeavour’s wonderland of dials, switches, and levers.

It’s also amazing because it reminds me of what I used to love about complex flight simulators. Systems within systems within systems, all conspiring to blow up an enemy SAM, shoot down a Tu-16 that I’d never even see, or even just find the VOR to DFW for my ILS. It’s been a while, so I might be mangling some of those acronyms. I can’t flight sim hotdog like I used to. But I remember actually caring what any given toggle did. I look at that panel up there, and I want to look closer at the buttons, and I want to know what that button does.

Finally, it’s amazing because it’s an amalgam of avionics over the decades. In the 2000s, Endeavour was refitted with glass cockpit displays for many of her analog gauges. Basically, some of the dials, switches, and levers were either replaced or their functions were duplicated with iPads. The cool blue screens in that image co-exist with all the analog frippery of the 80s and 90s. And if you go to the GigaPan site, you can zoom in and read every label, admire every texture, and all but hear the decisive click of flipping the LOOP 2 BYPASS from MAN INCR to DECR or turning the S-BAND PM ANTENNA from UR FWD to UL AFT.