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Nicholas Brennan

Spacewalk Operations, id est Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Instructor and Flight Controller

The SpaceInfo Club had the pleasure to ask Nicholas Brennan some questions about his job at NASA: he is currently working as Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Instructor and Flight Controller, plus he has been part of the US Navy as EOD Platoon Commander for the Special Operations Force. This presentation is just a preview of what you'll see inside the next editoins of the SpaceInfo Magazine, so make sure to join the club!

Can you share some insights into your transition from being a special operations commander in the US Navy to your current role as an extravehicular instructor and flight controller? How did your military experience prepare you for this unique position?

Well, I wouldn’t say it was a common transition! The special operations community is relatively small to begin with, and not a lot of people leave from there to go into space-related jobs. But I was a little unique in that I was interested in aerospace before joining the military, and I had gone to school for aerospace engineering before making the decision to serve. After qualifying as a Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and Diving Officer I gained a lot of diving experience, and it just so happens that underwater training at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab is one of the chief ways we train astronauts for spacewalks, a.k.a. extravehicular activity (EVA). I leveraged that overlap in addition to my education during my transition.

As someone with a background in special operations, what aspects of your military training do you find most applicable or beneficial in your current role? How does it influence your approach to extravehicular activities and flight control?

There ended up being an incredible overlap between military operations and NASA flight operations. In fact, Flight Operations has its roots in military command and control structure, with many of the first flight controllers being veterans of the Korean War. Even today, the Mission Control rooms at NASA look strikingly similar to the Tactical or Joint Operations Centers I saw in the military. So, it tracks that I can use many of the same mission planning concepts that I used to plan a dive or helicopter insertion to plan an EVA. Interestingly, I also spent a lot of my military career training with international partners which helped prepare me for the collaboration on the International Space Station.

How has your experience as a special operations commander influenced the way you train astronauts for extravehicular activities? Are there specific skills or mindset that you emphasize based on your military background?

One thing I draw from my background is understanding what it’s like being in an extreme situation and how to prepare for it. When astronauts open the hatch for an EVA, they will be looking down at the Earth, 250 miles below, with nothing in between except a thin helmet visor. Nothing can prepare you for that. If you’ve ever flown in an airplane, you can imagine there’s a big difference between looking out the window during a flight and opening the door. When I give crewmembers a task, I like to think of the first time I stood on the ramp of a C-130 before a free-fall jump and think – could I have executed this procedure then? Similarly, the spacesuit is bulky and cumbersome, much like the bomb suit I often wore training for improvised explosive device scenarios. I know first-hand how difficult it is to think clearly and how easy it is to get frustrated when you are uncomfortable like that. These experiences influence both the degree of detail I write into procedures as a flight controller, and the level of comfort in doing a task I look for as an instructor.


This was just a preview of the whole article that will be published inside the SpaceInfo Magazine. All you have to do to read it is loggin in or registering to the SpaceInfo Club. It's Free!


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