Before the true wiring and programming begins, I wanted to have a cockpit design fleshed out to put some purpose behind the programming. I don’t want something exactly like the example I saw online (see last post). I want to make it better; more to real life without losing the fun factor. With all the time I’m pouring into this thing, I would heartbroken if the kids only played with it until 8 years of age. By making it more real-to-life, maybe I can increase the play age until about 13 (when, at that point, it’s becomes relatively uncool on the teen agenda list). And speaking of time, you wouldn’t believe how much brain power and time go into coming up with a design!

Of course, I borrowed alot of Jeff’s ideas, but they encompass only about 50% of the cockpit. The other 50% are stuff that I’ve come up with.

I want every switch to have purpose and logic. You flip this and leave it flipped for too long, then you trigger this. Or you turn this off, the consequence is this. You turn too many things on (or attach them to, say, Bus A), and it overloads the bus. To this end, I started with the Master Caution Panel: the panel that lights up telling you what is going wrong.

Caution #1: it was damn hard to find detailed pictures of the Apollo cockpits on the nets. I’m talking very large pictures that I can read what the switches do… then I found this open-source (read: free) space simulator game that enthusiasts contribute to. One of the contributions is an Apollo simulator. By installing and booting up the simulator, I was able to stand on top of someone else’s research and poke around the electronic cockpit they built.

I tried to use all the main Caution Lights in the real Apollo. Once I had them laid out, I then started from one caution (like the “FC1” caution light) and crafted scenarios in my head that would trigger it. With these ideas, I then designed the toggle switches and lights in the rest of the cockpit: switches that would exacerbate the problem, and switches (or patterns of switches) that would alleviate the emergency. Of help, I downloaded an old NASA pdf of the Apollo Caution and Warning System that explained, in detail, what triggered the cautions which helped influence my “play” design.

One caution light I consciously did not use was the “Crew Alert” light, which isn’t related to any of the systems on the spaceship.  It was a “call button” used by Mission Control to grab the astronauts’ attention.  With this intent, you’ll see I’ve replaced it with a “Dinner Time” light to please the wife.  To operate it, I bought an RF receiver and a key fob transmitter.  Press the button on the fob and it triggers the Dinner light and master caution.  There are three other unused buttons on the fob that I’ll probably program other emergencies into to keep the kids’ play interesting.

Since extra realism adds incomprehensibility for younger kids (I mean, do I really expect a kid to want to learn a working knowledge of all the Apollo systems in order to correctly troubleshoot a problem in this play thing?), I’ve also added an LCD display as the “CMC” (Command Module Computer) to display a checklist of actions that will correctly solve the emergencies, as well as boot-up and down the entire system.  As long as you can follow instructions (ie, the checklist), uneventful operation of the spaceship will ensue.  Obviously, freelance play is the way to go (and encouraged) for growth of the imagination, but should the chaos spiral out of control it provides a self-actioning option to get the train back on the track.  This LCD display also ties into the CMC caution light as you can imagine.  So away with the theory.

To put my ideas to paper, I used Photoshop (since I’m well versed in it) to design the panels.  I used 5″x7″ Masonite for each panel, matching the 5″x7″ canvases I was using in Photoshop .  All of my switches and lights were ordered from Newark/element 14, Adafruit, Parts Express and Sparkfun.  I used the measurements found online and produced the true-to-size circles and squares in Photoshop so I could accurately place the labels with various sized fonts.  To see what it would look like as a whole, I created a separate “cockpit layout” where each panel was added as it was finished to maintain the big picture:

Cockpit Layout

A little Photoshop rearranging to make it visually pleasing and the panels were off to the printer for 1:1 paper prints to be taped to the Masonite panels.


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  • Kevin Laing

    Man….I think I might have to play with it next time I come back!????

    • Yeah – hopefully it’s done by then… progress has been slow.

  • Law

    Dude, that thing is awesome! Ummm…when we have kids can I pay you to make me one?

    • You may inherit mine provided I’m not playing with it when the kids are too old!

  • Mike Winslow

    I am duly impressed! If NASA ever gets back to manned space flight, they’ll probably give you a call!
    Speaking of Apollo and NASA, I had the honor of having dinner with Gene Krantz a couple of weeks ago… he gave a spellbinding briefing on the Apollo 13 episode.

  • Neil Reinhart

    How did this go? I can only find this post the the previous one about your project.

    • Sorry it took so long to respond. So we moved about 1.5 years ago which uprooted the whole process / build. Where it stands now: 90% of the individual panels are built. Because some of the switches are so close to the edge of some of them, I need to custom-make a frame to mount them on (simply building a wooden grid won’t work because the switches interfere in some areas). Lastly, my knowledge on Arduino-to-RPi programming needs to vastly improve.

      • Neil Reinhart

        No worries, thanks for responding ;-) I’m working on my own rendition of this idea, watching and learning for those who have gone before me. I have run into the same frame/spacing issue as well and currently doing the test fitting to work around it. Hoping to have everything finished in the next 6 months or so.