The Mission Control Center Headset — Part III

Another big difference between headsets, one that I never saw delineated in historical documentation, was the length of the coiled cord that attached the PTT box to the console. Some were shorter or longer than others. Some were so short that you could barely reach from one end of a console to the other without yanking the PTT box off your belt. Others had coiled cords so long that you could stay attached to the center console (the Flight Director console) and walk to most of the other consoles without unplugging. Naturally, the longer cords were prized, and any flight controller worth his salt knew how to open up the PTT box and change cords from a short one to a long one. Officially, of course, the headset technicians would never acknowledge that there were different length cords, and swapping cords was not a thing they were supposed to do – but if you found an apparently abandoned headset with a long cord in a drawer somewhere, it was usually the victim of a “cord-ectomyin short order” (by the flight controller, of course – technicians weren’t asked to be complicit), and the long cord installed on your own headset.

There was also a wide variety of personal expression when it came to how you stored your headset. Originally, the Plantronics headsets came in a vinyl pouch, blue on the back, clear in front. The plastic molded ziplock-style fastener wore out quickly, and the corners cracked, so these often looked pretty ratty and tended to dump headsets and accessories all over inside drawers where people kept their sets. In later years, Plantronics delivered the headsets in a sewn nylon bag – these tended to last a lot longer and were found throughout the control center. In the very late timeframe, headsets seem to be handed out in cheap, gallon-size, re-sealable freezer bags – I guess NASA was buying them in bulk without individual packaging by that time!

But flight controllers being creative people, it was not uncommon to see unique headset storage. One guy kept his in an old metal lunchbox with Buck Rogers on the cover. A very common bag was the purple bag that came with a bottle of Chivas Regal whiskey. Then there were the guys that simply kept their headset in a brown paper lunch bag – or just threw it into the drawer with a bunch of other random headsets. I personally had a bag that I sewed, based on a leather Plantronics pilot StarSet that I owned for flying. I used that same blue bag for most of my career – I guess I sewed it well.

Regardless of what headset you had, how you modified it, or how you stored it, headsets were an essential identity item for flight controllers. You worked with it for long hours at a time, you ate with it, and if you were staying for a really long shift, you might even have napped in the corner with it. Love it or hate it, the headset was the omnipresent item that tagged you as a real-time flight controller – and maybe even a steely-eyed missile man.