Odyssey Controls


The Odyssey is a large spaceship (larger than the NASA Space Shuttle) that is largely automated and capable of holding its crew in suspended animation. As the Odyssey gets closer to the unknown object (the TET), Jack and Vika wake up to take manual control of the ship.


Jack and Vika—commander and co-pilot, respectively—sit in a standard command deck position close to the front of the ship. They have twin chairs, and mirror-image controls. This is an almost identical functional set up to the Space Shuttle’s command deck.


The cockpit for the Endeavor. Source: NASA

Several glass panels on the dash serve as moving displays of information, but a significant amount of the control space is given over to physical buttons and switches. NASA standard components make up a large number of these physical controls, including the numeric keypad and OMS (Orbital Maneuvering System) thrust stick.


An interesting note here is just how sparse the Odyssey’s command deck is compared to NASA’s Endeavour (the complicated-looking picture above). Since the space shuttle is intended to be flown by human hands if necessary, it has controls for every action possible. (Minimizing modality and allowing the control to be optimized for the task.) In contrast, the Odyssey’s control setup is evidence that most functions on the ship are largely automated.

With most of the controls under automation, the only controls left would be those vital to manual flight operations, such as orbital maneuvers, and controls that activated pre-planned modes in the automated systems.


Even in a critical and unplanned situation, e.g. uncontrolled descent towards the TET without communications back to Earth, Jack and Vika are efficient and confident with their motions. This implies excellent training on the equipment, a solidly laid-out control scheme, and proper differentiation of roles between Commander and Co-pilot.

The Odyssey is not a small feat of design, planning, and engineering.

A special mention should be made here for the ship’s interior airlock doors. The doors have large grab surfaces, easy-shut hinges, and a simple circular sealing mechanism. Jack is able to seal the door and confirm that the door is sealed simply by rotating the main handle. When the handle is in the proper place there is a visual and auditory confirmation of sealing. He is able to do this quickly and without error, just before the Odyssey is swallowed by the TET.

Focus on the workflow

The Odyssey does not reinvent spacecraft controls, it simply makes it easier for a two-person crew to control the ship while far away from any help. By focusing only on what Jack and Vika need in their command interface, and letting proven technology handle the rest, the Odyssey’s designers were able to strip away most of the complexity in the command deck but leave vital controls for the crew.

As we see at the very end of Oblivion, the effective design of the Odyssey’s control deck not only saved most of the Odyssey’s crew, but probably saved Humanity as well.

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