Who else can astronauts call besides Houston?

The answer may be different for astronauts of Apollo, the Shuttle, and the Space Station.

What if Mission Control in Houston wasn’t available, due to a blackout or hack? I assume Plan B would be Kennedy Space Center. Could they call Baikonur or the ESA?

For that matter, could the ISS call my cell phone? Or use CB radio? Now they do Facebook Lives and such but that’s all routed through Houston. What can the astronauts do on their own to communicate with Earth?

I believe there was another communication center on the other side of the Earth (Australia?). Thist was set up specifically so there would be someone to answer them when the Earth was rotated with the USA on the back side from the moon.

Use ham radio to contact other hams, and, from there, the rest of the world.

Because they apparently have packet mode equipment at least some of the time, they could connect to the Internet that way, too.

A great place to start is the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manned_Space_Flight_Network.

When there’s something strange in their neighborhood, who they going to call?


“Arming photon torpedoes.”

The simplest answer is each other. If two astronauts are not sharing a volume of air, then they need to use the radio to talk to each other.

They have internet access, so they could e-mail anyone or use Twitter.

Though all NASA communications with the ISS goes through the TDRSS satellite network, including the Internet traffic. If the whole system goes down - i.e. all 3 ground stations disabled, or all 7 satellites - then all normal communications channels are lost. Even then, I believe Russia has ground stations that communicate directly with the ISS.

In addition, while ground cellular or Citizen’s Band radio wouldn’t work, but amateur band (ham) as mentioned by Derleth would work if they had a ham rig or could modify a tranceiver for amatuer frequencies on the 2 m or 70 cm bands. For Apollo and other spacecraft beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) NASA uses the S-, X-, and Ka-band frequencies which communicate with ground-based NASA Deep Space Network (DSN).

For Apollo and Shuttle missions, both Kennedy Space Center (KSC, on Merritt Island, Florida although frequently referred to as nearby Cape Canaveral) and Johnson Space Center (JSC, in Houston, Texas) have mission control capabilities. From partway through Gemini program onward through Apollo/Skylab and Shuttle, JSC served as normal mission control while KSC was responsible only for the launch portion; for the earlier Gemini and all of the Mercury missions both launch and mission control were at the Cape, albeit at a couple of different facilities. Hypothetically any other center like NASA/JPL with a control center and connection to the communications network could serve as a mission control center with some reconfiguration but the mission controllers there would not have been experienced with the specifics of those vehicles or have the people to support a crewe mission; CAPCOM was always staffed by a (generally experienced) astronaut, and several other flight controllers were also typically astronauts. There is no remote facility to support crewed flight missions for NASA and I don’t think it would be possible to configure a foreign facility to do so without major refit.


A friend of mine worked in Maryland at a contracted backup location for the shuttle missions, tracking everything with Houston in real time, just in case Houston did go dark. Computer Sciences Corporation in Greenbelt.

Correction: Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD.

I was going to mention Greenbelt. I toured parts of the facility during their open house last year and we were able to walk by several control centers for unmanned satellites. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine bulking up one or more of those to handle a manned mission. Of course the key is personnel. A bunch of techs used to checking telemetry every few hours would not be able to troubleshoot a manned mission in trouble-or just needing advice. So the experienced people from Houston would have to get there pretty quickly. Which may or may not be difficult.

I do remember when a hurricane threatened Houston a few years ago, many functions normally performed in Houston were transferred to the Russian center. If I remember correctly, this is practiced regularly.

Something like this happened last August during Hurricane Harvey. They were constantly in contact with Russia in case they lost power. Fortunately, operations never went down at the JSC (some site flooding but the main buildings were dry) but some personnel were trapped there because their homes were inaccessible. They came to work ready for a potential stay of several days and worked round the clock since other employees were unable to make it through the storm themselves.

In some ways, that was a “good” hurricane for NASA, not that there are any good natural disasters. It was primarily a massive rain event without excessive winds or storm surge so electricity wasn’t affected as much as in other storms (Ike back in 2008 was the opposite with tens of thousands without power for days/weeks).

A funny Aus movie was made about the role of a receiver in Parkes NSW in the moon landing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TAqXENo1rA

The ISS is about 250 miles up; that’s too far for a cell phone to reach an earth-based cell tower. If they had a satellite phone on board, I think they could call pretty much anyone on earth, just like someone with a sat phone in the middle of the ocean.

An astronaut called Car Talk once.

If the satellite phone system can handle a phone moving that fast, at least.

Even ignoring range, cell phone towers do not point up. Their antennas try to keep as much of their transmissions as economically feasible at or below the horizon. Every watt of power that goes into space is wasted.

The same applies for satellite phone transmitters. They are designed to cover the earth’s surface. Like terrestrial transmitters, most of the power will be pointed at or below the horizon, since satellites are even more power constrained. As you go above the earth’s surface, there will be gaps in the coverage. Once you get above the satellites, the coverage will be extremely poor. I don’t know orbit heights for all the sat-phone satellites, but I’d guess the ISS is below them. Even still there’ll be substantial gaps.

Sat phones often have difficulty maintaining uplinks while moving in an aircraft at transonic speed. However, newer generations of satellites and firmware have improved this capability, and many smallsat platforms are using Globalstar for primary downlink telemetry (although often cache and transmit when in range). It would probably work, at least for text, but I wouldn’t count on it for an open voice communication channel.

Cellular telephones will not work for the reasons described above and the fact that the ISS is moving so fast that individual cells could not transfer calls reliably. Cell phones don’t even work well in commercial aircraft flying at 20-30 kft, much less at LEO altitudes and orbital speeds.


Apparently it depends on the phone; some use LEO satellites, and some use geostationary satellites. Compared to the latter, the ISS might as well be on the ground.