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Science & Tech

Comms: Mission Control Evolution and Operations

Chris Hadfield

Lesson time 18:44 min

The first words spoken from the Moon were directed to Mission Control for a reason. Learn how Mission Control functions and why it is so critical to the success of a mission to space.

Chris Hadfield
Teaches Space Exploration
The former commander of the International Space Station teaches you the science of space exploration and what the future holds.


Columbia, Houston. We hope you enjoyed your lunch. And we're back with you to west. Columbia, Houston. We're two minutes to an early handover. Should just be a momentary interruption. No need to respond. The first word spoken from the moon was, in fact, not Tranquility Base or one small step. But in fact, it was Houston, Houston Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed. Houston is mission control. That's where a group of experts were sitting in a room, watching all that information come back from the lunar lander from where Neil and Buzz had just managed to touch down on the surface of the moon. But it's really, I think, significant that the first word from the surface of the moon was talking about mission control. The first American in space was, of course, Al Shepard. He launched out of Florida and didn't even go all the way around the world. Just launched, got up into space, 62 miles, 100 kilometers, above the surface of the world, floated down, and then landed just in the Atlantic on the other side of the Bahamas. Only about a 15 minute flight. You didn't really need mission control for a flight like that. It was only 15 minutes long. And what we really needed was launch control. The people in Florida needed to have all of the information. He wasn't even going to disappear over the horizon. You could do the whole thing with launch control. But if you think about it, as soon as you get going fast enough to not just go up and fall down again, but to start to orbit the world, launch control isn't going to be enough. You now need to be able to talk to the astronaut when they're coming over Africa or all the way around Australia or coming around the world. How are you going to provide communications to them and help when they have a technical problem so that you can make the mission as successful as possible? And sort of by inevitable progression, launch control had to become more and more capable so that they could, if the mission was once around the world, which is an hour and a half or so, 100 minutes, like Yuri Gagarin's first flight was once around, about a 100 minute flight, you need to start developing more capability in the team that's on the ground supporting the flight. And the longer the flight goes, the less you need launch control and the more you need an overall mission control. And then of course, mission control doesn't need to be in the same place you launched from. Because the requirements are not necessarily aligned. You need the group of people at the launch site, which makes sense for, this is why we launch rockets here. But mission control can be somewhere completely different. And it is. In the United States, we launch from Florida. But mission control is in Houston. In Russia, they launch from Baikonur Kazakhstan. But mission control is in Moscow. Very early in the space program, we didn't have relay satellites, satellites that would carry our voices all the way around th...

About the Instructor

Impossible things happen. At age nine, Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to go to space. He eventually went there three times, becoming a commander of the International Space Station. In his MasterClass, Chris teaches you what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Learn about the science of space travel, life as an astronaut, and how flying in space will forever change the way you think about living on Earth.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I wanted to be an astronaut. It did not happen but I do not regret. nevertheless this course made my life more fulfilling!

Chris is such a great speaker. I recommend this class to anybody who wants to be a better human being. Not just an astronaut. Chris is a great mentor, and a very good life coach.

Outer space exploration is a sophisticated topic. It requires knowledge, intelligence, genius, and University education.

this class was absolutely fantastic, I only recently got into science and space exploration this has made my love for it so much stronger! 10/10!!


Bernardo F.

Great story about the importance of communication, what's said and how it's evolved since the first launches. I guess removing some frontiers and cooperating independently of the nation has helped a lot with it. Now, is the communication with the ISS in English, does it depend on the nationality of the astronaut or the base where you're communicating? From the little I know about Chris I know he speaks Russian, and he could know a bit of Japanese, I'm not sure. It'd be interesting to know that. It's amazing that they have to be hearing multiple things at the same time and still be prepared to take that they need.

William D.

Technical Operations such as this has standardized communications procedures. I learned proper "IC" procedures in the US Navy. Many of the communications procedures NASA uses probably came from the US Military as that was a predominant background of many of the early pioneers in Mission Operations. I don't see the point of going through the history of the Soviet Mission Control and it's procedures unless those are used today. Yes, there were communications gaps in the early programs on both sides. Both sides used communication ships, "Rose Knot Victor" & Coastal Sentry Quebec" being two of the US vessels. The Apollo program also used communication relay aircraft to cover gaps in the coverage.

Maddie W.

A really insightful overview on what happens on the ground to make space flights possible. I didn't realize the full scope of expertise and information and people that are all working together in Mission Control to ensure the astronaut's safety. Really gives you an appreciation for all the effort and mental alertness that is required of everyone when launching to space. Also loved hearing about how technologies and terms like Quindar and CAPCOM might seem old or outdated, but actually turn out to be the most efficient way of communicating between the ship and Earth. I've listened to 'Mission Control' background noise on Youtube while studying; would recommend if you need something to make you feel calm and focused while working!

Mark Y.

Why did he say the first words on the moon were "Houston". That is not correct! Many things were said before that. ... "contact light, OK engine stop. ACA out of detent. Mode control both auto descent engine command override off... engine arm off... 413 is in...

Louis W.

Just watched and listened to Apollo 11 descent to lunar surface on Absolutely a wonderful experience to go through this again but this time through the people at Mission Control. Thank you to whoever put this up. Wonderful!

Jerry R.

Interesting about the Quindar. Something not really needed now, but they still want it. I can relate.

Jim S.

This was an excellent lesson. I think it was because he has spent so much time as CAPCOM. I like it when it offers us a behind the scenes look at an aspect of space travel we take for granted.

Pedro C.

It is amazing to realize how much can the operations vary upon cultural differences. The radical difference in communication patterns between the USA Mission Control and the Russian Mission Control is based on how differently they perceive the operation, and the need to be "connected", or the need to "let the crew be". Amazing. On the other hand, the experience with the quindar tone, shows us how we humans become a kind of cyberhumans, living integrated to our machines. It was astonishing to know that it was necessary to create an artificial quindar to function properly. Amazing again!!! We all should reflect on how deep we have gotten into this "cyberhumanity", what are the ramifications of it, and what are the demands for leadership, especially for multi-generational crews. Dear Chris, your experiences here have been illuminating for me. Thank you very much for your testimonies.


Even the most simplest of things become so important. How that tone is especially important as the reminder the crew is talking. I'd really love to spend a day listening to Chris talk about his experiences even more.

Ken W.

Sorry Chris! All I could think about was your music video: "Ground Control to Major Tom. Ground Control to Major Tom." Jokes aside, this is one of the most amazing courses I have taken. It has the right amount of details for people with STEM background. More importantly, your actions, wisdom, and talks are truly inspirational. Thank you so much!