Kennedy Announces Winner for 2020 Best of KSC Software Competition

Members of the development team that redesigned the SpecsIntact software at Kennedy Space Center.
The development team that redesigned the SpecsIntact software at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is made up of NASA and contractor employees from across the center. In the front row, from left is Candy Thomas, Tammy Edelman, and Martha Muller. Middle row, from left is Carly Helton, Marcelo Dasilva, Eric Lockshine, Cheryl Fitz-Simon, and Maria Zamora. Back row, from left is Jim Whitehead, Pierre Gravelat, Stephan Whytsell. Members of the team not pictured are Dan Evans, Belle Graziano, Eric Hall, Lelia Hancock, Justin Junod, John Merrick, Jim Morrison, Julie Nicely, Phil Nicholson, Gerard Sczepura, Daniel Smith, and Jeanne Yow. Photo credit: NASA

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a premier multi-user spaceport, uses research and innovation to support the future of space exploration. Kennedy’s annual Best of KSC Software competition is an employee-driven contest that fosters creativity and enables new discoveries to improve the quality of life on Earth and the exploration of our solar system and beyond.

Close-up view of the flame trench and flame deflector and Launch Pad 39B.
A close-up view of the flame trench and flame deflector at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 26, 2018. The launch pad has undergone upgrades and modifications to accommodate NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft for Artemis I and other deep space missions. New heat-resistant bricks have been installed on the walls and a new flame deflector is in place. Photo Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

The 2020 winner of Best of KSC Software was SpecsIntact 5. The development team, made up of NASA employees and contractors from across the center, earned this distinction by redesigning the SpecsIntact software. This automated specification management system is used in construction projects worldwide. The upgraded system reduces the time and cost required to produce facility specifications with an easy and intuitive interface that assists with quality control.

The team at Kennedy Space Center manages the SpecsIntact system, which also is used by many federal and state agencies, including the U.S. military. At Kennedy, NASA used previous versions of the software for the design, construction, and upgrades of several facilities, including modification of the spaceport’s headquarters building and upgrades to the main flame deflector in the flame trench at Launch Pad 39B.

A view looking up at the 10 levels of work platforms in High Bay 3 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The work platforms will surround and provide access for service and processing of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

The software was also instrumental to the renovation of High Bay 3 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building in preparation for NASA’s first integrated launch of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft as part of the agency’s Artemis program.

The SpecsIntact system has evolved significantly since first conceived at NASA in 1965 to support applications across both the government and private sector. NASA’s Technology Transfer Program ensures that innovations developed for exploration and discovery are broadly available to the public, maximizing the benefit to the nation. The program enables U.S. industry efforts to find new applications for NASA technologies on Earth and for human space exploration, including deep space missions to the Moon and Mars.

NASA Test Directors Eagerly Await Artemis Launch

Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Jeremy Graeber and Jeff Spaulding in Kennedy Space Center's Launch Control Center
NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, above, confers with Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding, left, and Test, Launch and Recovery Operations Branch Chief Jeremy Graeber in Firing Room 1 at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Control Center during a countdown simulation. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Before NASA’s mighty Space Launch System (SLS) rocket can blast off from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center to send the Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit, teams across the country conduct extensive testing on all parts of the system. Guiding that effort at the Florida spaceport are NASA test directors, or NTDs.

NTDs within the Exploration Ground Systems program are in charge of flight and ground hardware testing in Kennedy’s Launch Control Center firing rooms 1 and 2, where activities involved with preparing rockets, spacecraft and payloads for space can be controlled from computer terminals. They are responsible for emergency management actions, helping lead the launch team during all facets of testing, launch and recovery.

NASA’s Artemis missions will land American astronauts on the Moon by 2024, beginning with Artemis I, the uncrewed flight test of SLS and Orion.

“It’s certainly an amazing feeling to be responsible for setting up the building blocks of a new program which will eventually take us to the Moon, Mars and beyond,” said Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno.

Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno
Senior NASA Test Director Danny Zeno is leading the development of test plans and procedures that are essential to flight and ground hardware for the Artemis missions. Photo credit: NASA

Zeno is leading the development of test plans and procedures that are essential to flight and ground hardware for the Artemis missions. This includes proving the functionality of flight and ground systems for the assembled launch vehicle configuration, verifying the mobile launcher arms and umbilicals operate as expected at launch, and performing a simulated launch countdown with the integrated vehicle in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The 14-year NTD veteran relishes his hands-on role in successfully testing and launching SLS — the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built.

“It’s very fulfilling,” Zeno said. “What excites me about the future is that the work I’m doing today is contributing to someday having humans living and working on other planets.”

There are 18 people in the NTD office — all of whom must undergo rigorous certification training in the management and leadership of test operations, systems engineering and emergency response. They are in charge of the people, hardware and schedule during active firing room testing.

“The NTD office is at the center of testing operations, which will ensure that we are ready to fly the Artemis missions,” said Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. “As we lay the foundation for exploring our solar system, the NASA test directors are on the front lines of making it happen.”

An NTD works from a console in the firing room during integrated or hazardous testing, guiding the team through any contingency or emergency operations. They lead critical testing on Launch Pad 39B and the mobile launcher, the 370-foot-tall, 11 million-pound steel structure that will launch the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft on Artemis missions to the Moon and on to Mars. This includes sound suppression, fire suppression and cryogenic fluid flow tests, as well as testing the crew access arm and umbilicals — connections that will provide communications, coolant and fuel up until launch.

While the majority of work for the ground and flight systems is pre-liftoff, the job certainly doesn’t end there.

Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding
Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding has nearly three decades of experience in the Test, Launch and Recovery Office. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

“It culminates in a two-day launch countdown in which all of the groups, teams and assets are required to function together in an almost flawless performance to get us to launch,” said Senior NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding.

Spaulding has nearly three decades of experience in the Test, Launch and Recovery Office. For Artemis I, he is leading the launch control team and support teams during the launch countdown for Blackwell-Thompson, who will oversee the countdown and liftoff of SLS.

Just over three miles from the launch pad, on launch day, Spaulding will be in the firing room running the final portion of cryogenic loading through launch. During this time, supercool propellants — called cryogenics — are loaded into the vehicle’s tanks. He will perform the same tasks for the wet dress rehearsal, which is a full practice countdown about two months before launch that includes fueling the tanks and replicating everything done for launch prior to main engine start.

At the end of the mission, part of the team will lead the recovery efforts aboard a Navy vessel after Orion splashdown. The NASA recovery director and supporting NTDs are responsible for planning and carrying out all operations to recover the Orion capsule onto a U.S. Navy ship. This includes working closely with the Department of Defense to ensure that teams coordinate recovery plans, meet requirements, and follow timelines and procedures to bring our heroes and spacecraft home quickly and safely.

“We are supported by numerous teams at Kennedy and elsewhere around the country that are helping us with our historic first flight as we blaze a path toward landing astronauts on the Moon in 2024,” Spaulding said.