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Electronics students help reboot space shuttle flight simulator

During the past several months, a group of community partners, including Hawai‘i Community College Electronics Technology students, restored a space shuttle flight simulator that had been sitting unused and in disrepair at the Pacific Aviation Museum on O‘ahu.

On Thursday, January 28, which was the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the flight simulator was unveiled during a ceremony at Kea‘au High School.

The restoration of the flight simulator and the unveiling ceremony were done in honor of Ellison Onizuka, an astronaut who grew up in Kona and perished when the Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.

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Rob Kelso, the Executive Director of the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), was a friend and colleague of Onizuka’s. Kelso spearheaded the restoration project, which was performed by Kea‘au High School students working in a variety of trades programs, including the Construction Academy that is administered by Hawai‘i CC; Hawai‘i CC students in the Electronics Technology program; and the Hawai‘i Civil Air Patrol.

“I think he would absolutely love this and he’d be very proud that his heritage is connected to these kids,” said Kelso.

Bernard “Chip” Michels, an Electronics Technology Instructor at Hawai‘i CC, said he and his students faced a complex task as they worked to restore the control panels in the simulator.

“There is about 5,000 feet of wiring harness on the back side of the panels,” said Michels. “There are more than 800 switches on the panels. The wiring harnesses were hand-made with a twist rate of 12 wraps per foot. The wire was then soldered to the switch terminals."

“The challenge of this was corrosion,” Michels added. “When the shuttle was at the Pacific Aviation Museum it was left out in the weather. Needless to say the harsh salt air raised havoc on the components. Each switch had to be tested for continuity, and each terminal had to be polished so that the solder would have a chance of bonding. We then proceeded to construct two power supplies from scratch. We went as far as doing load calculations and fabricating our own printed circuit boards (PCB). This included laying out the PCB, etching and assembly. We then did adjustments to the power supplies to match the loading requirement."

Click here to learn more about the Electronics Technology program!