NASA Flight Simulator Chair, 1981-1995, NASA, Houston USA
This chair was used by astronauts training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to operate the Space Shuttle’s remote manipulator arm and manoeuvring thrusters. The chair’s software would be changed according to the training requirement. The remote manipulator arm or ‘Canadarm’ was an articulated grabber used to deploy or retrieve satellites from the Shuttle’s payload bay. It was famously used on the deployment and servicing missions of the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronauts, attached to the end of the arm, could also be positioned around the Shuttle to assist or to perform other operations outside the Shuttle.
The chair hand control on the left simulated control of the grabber (or “end effector”) so it could grapple or release items, while the rotational hand control on the right mimicked control of the pitch, roll, and yaw of the “wrist joint” near the end of the arm.
Using different software, this same chair was used to simulate the use of thrusters to manoeuvre the Shuttle for docking. This first occurred during the STS-71 mission in 1995, when the Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir.
The chair appears almost as an ordinary piece of domestic furniture; familiar and unremarkable. That it was used to train astronauts, the most exotic of professions, demystifies some of the romance and sophistication of space exploration.