The capsule communicator (CAPCOM) is the person in mission control who speaks to the astronauts. The position was invented by NASA's first flight director, Chris Kraft, who believed it would be best filled by another astronaut, as they would have the same training as those on the mission and would best understand how an astronaut thinks.

Was there ever a time when the CAPCOM position was filled by a non-astronaut?

  • Per NASA, an astronaut is someone who has completed astronaut training. It does not matter whether they have already been to space.
  • The question is about being the CAPCOM. It does not pertain to other persons who have spoken to astronauts (e.g. their families, the flight director, politicians, etc.).
  • "How many earth stations had astronauts on-site during John Glenn's orbit in Friendship-7?" points out that there were 14 ground stations during John Glenn's Mercury flight, each with its own CAPCOM, and since there were only 6 other astronauts at the time, many stations used non-astronauts. Therefore, answers should focus on NASA missions after Mercury.
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In at least the early part of the Gemini program, the ground-side network still wasn't able to relay all ground stations to a central control center, so multiple sites still needed CAPCOMs, and not all of those CAPCOMs were astronaut-trained. In addition, the Gemini program featured longer-duration flights than those of Mercury, beginning with the second crewed flight, the 4-day Gemini 4 mission, so there was a need for multiple shifts worth of CAPCOMs.

During the run-up to Gemini 3, there was some conflict at Carnarvon between the local flight control team and astronaut Pete Conrad, who was assigned as Carnarvon CAPCOM. Possibly as a consequence of that incident, on Gemini 4, non-astronaut flight director Ed Fendell served as Carnarvon CAPCOM, while astronaut Dave Scott was onsite as an observer! The transcript confirms that Carnarvon CAPCOM communicated directly with the spacecraft.

Again on Gemini 5, Carnarvon had a non-astronaut CAPCOM, Chuck Lewis, directly in contact with the spacecraft.

I've so far been unable to confirm that there was a non-astronaut CAPCOM on the ground during Gemini 3 -- the first crewed Gemini flight. Wikipedia and spacerace.com agree that Gordon Cooper was the Cape CAPCOM and Roger Chaffee was the Houston CAPCOM; honeysucklecreek.net places Pete Conrad at Carnarvon and Neil Armstrong at Hawaii.

The Gemini 3 transcript records the following CAPCOM call signs:

  • From liftoff: Cape CAPCOM (Cooper; Grissom addresses him as "Gordo".)
  • From 15:16: Canary CAPCOM - unknown individual
  • From 25:07, over the Kano, Nigeria station, but talking to Cape CAPCOM -- the ground-side network is relaying.
  • From 35:08, over Tananarive station, Cape CAPCOM again.
  • From 42:27, USNS Coastal Sentry (CSQ CAPCOM) - unknown individual
  • From 50:27, Carnarvon CAPCOM (Conrad)
  • 1:11:32, via the Canton ground station, Cape CAPCOM again.
  • 1:26:31, USNS Rose Knot (RKV CAPCOM) - unknown individual
  • 1:29:43, Guaymas CAPCOM - unknown individual
  • 1:31:10, Texas CAPCOM (Chaffee)

From here we work our way back to the Cape. Late in the second orbit, we get one more station in the mix:

  • 2:49:48, Hawaii CAPCOM (Armstrong)

So my unknowns here are Canary, CSQ, RKV, and Guaymas. Since a number of different sources mention the CAPCOMs at these sites without naming them, I believe they were not astronauts, but I can't prove it.

Yes, from 2011 up till now and in the foreseeable future.

With the shrinking astronaut corps after the end of Shuttle and the 24/7/365 nature of ISS operations, it became impossible to completely cover the CapCom job with crewmembers. Mission Flight Operations Directorate personnel fill in now.

The first non-astronaut CapCom was Ginger Kerrick.

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References

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