Monthly Archives: February 2010

Human Rating A Spacecraft

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Recently you may have heard about former astronaut Scott Parazynski’s adventure to climb Mt. Everest.  He carried a sliver of a moon rock from Apollo 11 with him, and then picked up a sliver of a rock from the top of the highest mountain in the world.  These two rocks were encased in plastic, handed over to NASA, and flew aboard the space shuttle to be installed in the new Tranquility module of the International Space Station.  All very inspiring and good. 

 

Now for the rest of the story. 

 

All items to fly aboard the shuttle and/or reside on the station have to go through a safety review process.  One of NASA’s early and painful lessons was the Apollo 1 fire.  Fire in space could clearly be catastrophic, and the oxygen content of the atmosphere of both the shuttle and the station has some variability – and can be higher than normal earth atmospheric oxygen content.  It turns out that the plastic which the two rocks were encased in has bad properties in a fire situation.  To their credit, the new NASA safety organization attitude is no longer “No because” but “Yes if”.  The memento could be flown and displayed on the ISS if it were encased in another transparent, fire safe material.  If you see it today on the ISS, the rocks are doubly enclosed, once in “bad” plastic, and over that a layer of “good” polymer. 

 

Now, is this bureaucratic overkill?  Would you have fire safety disregarded?  How would you handle this situation if you were in charge?  Just take the risk?  Or do the bureaucratic thing and apply another layer of safety?  Careful with your answer.  I’ve had to face crewmember’s families after their loved one perished.  That experience makes you think very hard about these kinds of decisions.

 

There is a debate going on about human rating spacecraft – making them safe enough for people to fly on.  It is really a debate about safety and how much NASA will be involved in ensuring that commercial providers of space transportation services are safe.  There has been a lot said about human rating space vehicles lately, much of it confusing.  Read NASA’s requirements document for yourself at this location:

http://nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov/displayDir.cfm?t=NPR&c=8705&s=2B

 

Even if you read it thoroughly you willnot understand what is really being said unless you understand the context and the NASA culture in which it resides.  Just reading the document without understanding the organization will lead you to wildly erroneous conclusions.  Let me try to put this document in perspective and plain language.

 

The first conclusion is obviously this document was written for a government run program in the style of Shuttle or Station.  The underlying assumption is that the NASA Program Manager makes the decisions within the framework of the NASA management structure.  So to apply this document to commercial human spaceflight will take a re-writing.  In fact, a committee is already working on a new version which would apply to vehicles on which NASA might buy seats. 

 

The second conclusion is illustrated by the drawing on page 2. 

 

Standards Figure 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the Human Rating Requirements “NPR 8705.2B” is only a small selection of the standards and processes that go into human rating a spacecraft.    As the document says early on “  . . . complex space hardware requires all missions to meet high standards . . . This NPR is to define and implement additional processes . . . necessary to human-rate space systems . . .  this NPR is linked to, and depends upon, many of the requirements . . .  contained in other NASA directives.” 

 

Are you getting the picture?

 

When I was shuttle program manager, I asked how many standards were levied on the shuttle program.  The answer was in excess of 40,000.  How can that be, you might ask.  Easily, I would reply.  There are all kinds of standards:  welding standards, parts standards, cleanliness standards, fracture control standards, vibration standards, EMI standards, wiring standards, mil standards and mil specs, software design and testing standards, and on and on and on.    

 

For a short list of some of NASA technical standards – all of which are likely to be applied to commercial human spaceflight – visit this page:  http://standards.nasa.gov/documents/nasa

 

But wait, that’s not all!  Each of these documents requires the use of more reference standards.  Let me give you an example of further standards referenced from a NASA parent standard; this from a recent presentation:

 

“NASA-STD-4003 September 8, 2003  Electrical Bonding for NASA Launch Vehicles, Spacecraft, Payloads, and Flight Equipment (25 pages)

            + Mil – C-5541, Rev E 11/30/1990 Military Specification, Chemical Conversion

                        Coatings on Aluminum and Aluminum Alloys

            + SAE-AMS-M-3171 4/01/1998  Magnesium Alloy, Processes for Pretreatment

                        and Prevention of Corrosion on

            +  SAE-ARP-5412 11/1/1999 Aircraft Lightning Environment and Related Test

                        Waveforms”

 

That is a short standard with a short subsidiary list.  Remember that if your electrical equipment is not well bonded (grounded), you are likely to have a serious problem.  This is precisely an example of the care and expertise that goes into aerospace vehicles to make them successful – and safe.  Norm Augustine’s book declares “the $5000 dollar electronic component will always fail so as to protect the 50 cent fuse” (Electronics boxes were cheaper in his day).  Even better to remember is Michelangelo’s famous dictum:  “Trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle.” 

 

There are a variety of standards available in the world, and I was very un-amused one day to be drawn into a debate by two technical warrant holders over which welding standard was superior:  the ANSI or the ASME.  The ISS organization has cheerfully adopted European or Japanese standards for the components built overseas.  But whether the spacecraft was built in the USA or overseas, at every step in the design, testing, and production of a space vehicle, there is some NASA organization or person who has been invested with the power to enforce those standards. 

 

Armchair authorities like to discuss the “big ticket” items in the Human Ratings Requirements:  redundancy requirements for fault tolerance, or minimum factor of safety for structures as examples.  Real rocket builders know while those are important, the real key to safety and success is very much more affected by the quality of parts and myriad individual steps in workmanship of the end product.  These are measured against thousands of individual checks against the appropriate standard.  So you must realize the vast majority of standards and requirements do not show up in the NPR 8705.2B Human Ratings Requirements document, they must be searched out in a hundred subordinate documents.

 

A third observation can also be made very early in the document.  NASA has “technical authorities” for safety, engineering, health/medical, and crew.  Following the Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommendations, the agency was reorganized so that the technical authorities do not work for the program but maintain independence to ensure that NASA programs are executed safely.  In fact, if a technical authority disagrees with the program manager, it is the program manager who must comply or appeal to a higher authority.  This is designed to ensure that cost and schedule pressures do not lead to unsafe decisions. 

 

Transparency in government:  the NASA governance model can be read at:   http://nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov/npg_img/N_PD_1000_000A_/N_PD_1000_000A_.pdf

 

Here is an interesting and operative paragraph:

 

“3.4.2.1.4 Authority Roles Regarding Risk

Decisions related to technical and operational matters involving

safety and mission success risk require formal concurrence by the

cognizant Technical Authorities (Engineering, Safety and Mission

Assurance, and Health and Medical). This concurrence is based on

the technical merits of the case and includes agreement that the risk

is acceptable. For matters involving human safety risk, the actual

risk taker(s) (or official spokesperson[s] and his/her/their supervisory

chain) must formally consent to taking the risk; and the responsible

program, project, or operations manager must formally accept the

risk.”

 

What does that mean in plain language?  Basically the builder must comply with what the independent technical expert requires. 

 

I can remember one shuttle issue with the agency tribology expert (that’s lubrication to most folks).  The technical expert would not budge a millimeter (0.254 inch) in requiring servicing of a part almost inaccessible deep in the bowels of the orbiter.  The agency technical experts have absolutely no incentive to back off on their standards.  They are independent of the program.  They are not concerned with cost or schedule, only with compliance.  Compliance brings about safety, why would we want them to do anything less?

 

How will that fit with a lean, entrepreneurial commercial organization with a profit/loss bottom line?  Heck if I know.

 

So on about the fourth page of the Human Ratings Requirements document you can read that before work starts on a spacecraft design, a meeting is convened of the technical authorities to tell the program manager what standards and specifications the new vehicle will have to meet.

 

Don’t forget the legend that is stamped on the top of the front page:  “Compliance is Mandatory”

 

That’s probably enough for an overview.  We may visit the in-depth requirements on another day. 

 

Remember that the requirements document for commercial services is being written and the NASA governance model can change at any time.  So this discussion serves as a background of where we are today and where we have been, not necessarily where we are going to go in the future. 

 

My takeaway? 

 

The agency tried really hard to be as safe as possible and we still had the Apollo 1 fire, close calls on several lunar missions – the most famous of which was Apollo 13 – and we lost Challenger and Columbia.  In spite of our best intentions and best efforts. 

 

I’ll quote myself from my blog post Sine Non Qua on Sept. 11, 2009:

 

“Six years after the loss of Columbia, I’m not sure that we can make a spacecraft safe, but I have empirical evidence that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can make it expensive.”

Suborbital Spaceflight

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Short note today; I am at the Suborbital Research conference in snowy Boulder, CO. 

I am surrounded by dreamers who want to fly in space:  everybody from Lori Garver and Alan Stern on down to the grad students who is here wants to fly in space.  They desperately want to fly in space. 

I had the good fortune to be accompanied by a co-worker who was just turned down in her application to NASA”s astronaut office.  It is a hard hard thing to pass through the bar into that small fellowship. 

These dreamers want everybody to be able to fly in space.

There might even be real science that can be accomplished in 3 to 5 minutes of microgravity.

But the thought of opening up the space frontier to the common person is the real motivation here.

Its a good motivation; and some of these companies are making progress toward that goal.

We wish them luck; offer technical advice and assistance, and (if Congress approves) will have $15 million a year to encourage them.

This, then, appears to be the new world order.  Ad astra per dreamers.  (somebody help me with the latin!)

But then, all great accomplishments were once dreams.

Nexus of Evil

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There are a small group of individuals who spend their days and nights trying to find the weak points in NASA’s human spaceflight program.  This diabolical and insidious team has penetrated the most secure sectors of the space agency and they gather their information from the inside.  I personally have confronted this organization and can attest to their manipulative and devious behavior. 

 

My fellow Flight Directors have termed them “the dirty slime ball [expletive deleted]s.”  Their name:  the integrated training team.  Their leader:  Sim sup.

 

Training and simulations have been an integral part of America’s human spaceflight program from the very beginning.  We like to say that we train like we fly, and it is pretty close in many ways.  The job of the training team is to ensure that the astronauts and the flight controllers are prepared for any eventuality.  Not only if things go as planned, but what to do if something goes wrong.  The trainer’s relish their role.

 

When the astronauts are in the simulator, it is as close to the space flight experience as we can make it.   Microgravity can’t be replicated, but almost everything else can be.  When the flight control team is in the Mission Control Center, the data coming in looks just the same whether it is coming from a real life shuttle (or ISS) or from a simulator.

 

The sim team is lead by the Sim Sup (pronounced like “soup”) which stands for Simulation Supervisor.  In the ISS world, they have adopted the moniker STL for Station Training Lead, but the job is the same.  The Sim Sup and his team of trainers think very hard about lessons that the astronauts and flight control team needs to learn.  A lot of these are cataloged and are de rigueur.  Leaks, circuit breaker pops, engines that quit, radios and other electronic gear that flakes out; all of these and many more are standard issue failure scenarios.  A moderately well trained team should be able to handle any single failure without breaking a sweat.  The sim team looks for the optimum combination of problems that lead the flight team to the edge of failure.

 

No kobayashi maru scenarios, though.   Mission operations management stands by the credo “Failure is not an option.”  There is always a way out.  Kirk would be proud.

 

That doesn’t mean the scenarios aren’t tough, however.  During one memorable shuttle launch simulation, I counted 47 different malfunctions that the simulation team inserted into the run in the space of 10 minutes.  When I asked sim sup what was the point of that run, he replied:  “Flight, just wanted the team to learn to prioritize between problems that could kill ya now and stuff that could wait until later.”  Thanks a lot sim sup. 

 

More often than not, the cases were highly cerebral, and it frequently seemed like playing an elaborate chess game with the sim team. 

 

Whatever the flight plan and the objectives, Sim Sup was certain to put together a scenario that would make the team question their assumptions and plans.  That was the point; not just failure response, but is the plan a good one.

 

There is a long history of simulations causing the team to build a better plan that in fact saves the day.  The last landing simulations before the flight of Apollo 11 inserted some LM computer failures which caused the team to abort the landing.  The DPS officer went back to the office determined to avoid that outcome.  When the real LM computer started spitting out alarm codes during the real first lunar landing, DPS was prepared. 

 

Similarly, during an Apollo 12 simulation, the training case required the LM to be used as a lifeboat for a crippled CSM.  This lead to a series of studies and plans about how to improve that capability.  Those plans became the center of the Apollo 13 response.

 

I learned early on never to tell Sim Sup that his case was non-credible.  Every time I complained about some failure scenario, sure enough something like it would come close on the next shuttle flight.  But we were ready.

 

And not all cases were introduced through the computer models running over in the simulator building.  Once Sim Sup snuck out to the MCC and handed the EECOM a note “you are having a heart attack.”  The resulting theatrics by the EECOM and his next door neighbor EGIL caused another flight controller on the other side of the room to call 911.  The EMTs were not amused to find out that they had been scrambled out of the fire station due to a simulation.  MOD management said no more simulated heart attacks in the MCC.

 

Another flight was preparing for an October launch shortly before a Presidential election.  The Sim team called the Flight Director and told him that a candidate was at a campaign stop and wanted to talk with the crew.  That caused a flurry.  But wait; a month or so later, during the actual flight, just a couple of weeks before the election, the phone rang and, guess what?  A certain candidate wanted to talk to the crew while he was at a campaign stop! 

 

There must be a million stories about the complex interlocking training cases that the sim team inflicted on the flight team.  But the key remains that assumptions were questioned, better plans were made, and the team was better prepared for real spaceflight and the problems that Murphy would throw our way.

 

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the financial meltdown and the “quants” that had become so influential in business circles.  They could not believe that their computer models of the financial industry were flawed.  But they were.  I wonder if the financial sector could benefit from Sim Sup? 

 

How valuable would it be to have a Sim Sup for life decisions?  Somebody who could string out the scenario so we got to see how our choices play out.  We could all use that on a personal level; maybe we could use that on a national level. 

The Vision Thing

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George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President, calls Houston home.   He and Barbara can be frequently seen at Astros baseball games, he made his early career in business here, was a congressman from here, even once taught a course as an adjunct professor at my alma mater, Rice University. 

 

As you may recall, Mr. Bush failed in his re-election bid; there were a number of reasons for his loss, but one of the frequently cited reasons was “the vision thing”.  The critics felt that he had not clearly articulated his vision for the future of the nation, which is a vital function that an effective chief executive must do.  Keep that in mind. 

 

On July 20, 1989 – the 20th anniversary of the first lunar landing – President G. H. W. Bush had made a speech proposing what would come to be known as the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI).  This proposal included a permanent return to the Moon and human missions to Mars.  In spite of the bold and visionary words, this initiative quickly failed. 

 

Thor Hogan has written an excellent book on the history of the fiasco.  His book is “Mars Wars, The Rise and Fall of the Space Exploration Initiative” NASA SP-2007-4410, August 2007.  I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in how national space policy is made and how federal agencies can be dysfunctional at times.  Dr. Hogan is a Professor of Political Science at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.  Let me reiterate – I highly recommend this book if you are interested in these topics.

 

When  “Mars Wars” was first published in 2007, it was widely circulated in NASA management and caused considerable discussion.  Everyone was trying to make sure to avoid the mistakes made in 1989 and create a successful program.  There are many lessons to be learned from that earlier experience, and Dr. Hogan hit many of them. 

 

The most frequently cited lesson from SEI is the need to build a “sustainable” program.  That is a shorthand way of saying stay within an affordable budget.  One of the principle  reasons the Space Exploration Initiative failed was its price tag.  The SEI package was dead on arrival at Congress because of the high cost.  Trying to apply this lesson, the NASA program of the last five years to send crews to the Moon and Mars strove mightily to remain within the budget line announced in 2004.

 

But back to 1989, because there are other lessons to be learned there.  That year I was a rookie Space Shuttle Flight Director, learning the ropes in Mission Control, and I had no time to be involved in SEI.  But I was immersed in the NASA culture of the day and I remember that time with great clarity.  Dr. Hogan’s “Mars Wars” book does a wonderful job of capturing the motivations of agency personnel in those days. 

 

It was a bare three years following the Challenger accident and the wound was still raw.  Challenger was a driving factor in the SEI story.  Remember that widely held beliefs are important whether they are accurate or not.  That is because what people believe to be true motivates them.  So take the following paragraph not necessarily as historical truth but as the mythos which psychologically undergird folks running SEI.

 

NASA was not allowed to build the shuttle the “right” way, that is, to make both engineeringly elegant and safe.  Lives were lost in Challenger due to basic design choices forced on the agency by severe budgetary restrictions.  In the early 1970s, when NASA was authorized to design and build a revolutionary reusable winged space vehicle, the Office of Management and Budget capped the total development cost of the shuttle at $5 billion.   (Money went further back then.)  This cap was far too low to allow development of several of the more innovative design options.  Fly back liquid fueled boosters were out of the question, for example.  Operational costs were higher because of choices required to keep the development costs low.  Safety was lower.  So we got an aero-space plane with a big dumb drop tank and two scaled up JATO bottles. 

 

After Challenger, there was no money to significantly improve the basic design of the shuttle.  NASA was faced with the prospect of flying its less-than-safe shuttle for the long term, but with even higher operational costs and a lower flight rate.   Anger is the only term I can use to describe the general feeling back then.  Anger that NASA was forced to build something less than perfect by green eyeshade bean counters in Washington.  Anger that those decisions had been the basis for the loss of seven of our colleagues.  Anger that NASA wasn’t given the authorization to build a second generation shuttle to correct those problems.  So when the President announced a plan to build a spaceship to go back to the Moon and on to Mars, the most frequently heard comment around the human space flight institutions was “We’ve got to do this right this time.”  Even the NASA Administrator  Dick Truly was heard to “we’ve got to do it right this time or not at all.” 

 

So when the SEI plan turned out to be very expensive, a significant part of that cost was driven by the thought that it must be done “right”.

 

Fast forward twenty years.  The recent program struggled mightily to stay within the budget because they perceived “sustainability” the principle lesson learned from the last time.  Smarting from the recent loss of Columbia, the organization believed that ‘it still had to be done right’.  So technical performance was not open for compromise.   In program management that means the only relief can come from schedule delay.  Delay that lead to an increasing gap.  Now, that analysis is very, very overly simplistic.  Blog level simplistic, in fact.  I don’t need to connect any more dots from that point, you can do that yourself.

 

I am told that over the last 20 years more than 15 major NASA Human Spaceflight programs have been cancelled.  I can’t recite the whole list but will give a few examples:  X-38, HL-20, X-33/VentureStar, Space Launch Initiative (SLI), and Orbital Space Plane (OSP).  Some never got past the viewgraph stage.  Some were cancelled because of technical issues.  Some were cancelled for budgetary issues.  And some were cancelled for political reasons. 

 

So, in hindsight, was the shuttle built “right?”  That program actually flew, well, late, and only somewhat over budget.  Of course the operations budget never went down like it was supposed to.  The shuttle is clearly not “safe” in the conventional sense, but will space flight ever be “safe” like putting your kids on the schoolbus?  At least the shuttle program actually kinda sorta worked and didn’t get cancelled before the first test flight. 

 

What constitutes “right” in advancing human space flight?  Something reasonably safe and not too costly, something that opens up the space frontier to many people rather than a few?  Is that the foundational paradigm that is being overturned today? 

 

There are more than a few lessons that you can extract from Dr. Hogan’s book.  I strongly suggest you read it.

 

And one more thing:  there is a saying that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.  It might appear that we have been doing the “same thing” over and over again and wondering why the result turns out this way.  This time the paradigm is shifting at a foundational level.  Will the new paradigm avoid the same old outcome?

 

That a vision?   Hmm.

The Joy of Blogging

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Plagiarism exposed:  someone else came up with the phrase ‘blogging is the ultimate exercise in narcissism’ so I can’t claim original credit for it.  My own view is that to be an interesting blogger you must have exhibitionist tendencies. 

 

After a year and a half of intermittent writing on the NASA blog page, I think it’s time to make a few observations about the process.

 

Blogging is not my foremost work assignment; I really have a full plate of other things to do.  Blogging is sort of a sidelight for me, and my blog is mostly written outside normal work hours. 

 

Early in my post-shuttle career, I had a young social-media savvy technical assistant who proposed the idea that I should have a NASA blog; he coordinated all the set up.  Don’t blame the NASA PAO or IT departments for me taking up electronic real estate, it was our own idea.   

 

But I’ve really grown to like doing it.  You psych majors can comment on my subconscious motivations.

 

Let me make the following very clear:  I have never been told what to blog about.  Nobody writes my blog but me.   I’m responsible for the content, spelling, fact checking, and any errors that appear.  I’ve never been told to delete or censor or remove anything from my blog.  Nor is there a list of topics, or any strategic communications plan guides me in writing the blog.  Even though I have frequently asked for feedback from my bosses, all I ever get is a thumbs up.  So I feel pretty free to write about anything that is on my mind, trying to keep common sense about it.  But I put my name on it and I stand behind it.  I never post anonymously nor will I comment on somebody else’s blog anonymously. 

 

So don’t confuse my blog with official NASA policy. I’m just one guy here and you are getting this one guy’s take on things.  Plus some mostly true old guy stories about things that may or may not have really happened during my career.  Hopefully entertaining, but at least giving some insight into how things work inside NASA.

 

I have read other blogs that are clearly written by public relations flacks and those blogs are obvious advertisements or press releases dressed up to look like a blog.  I wouldn’t be a party to that sort of a blog.

 

I have to approve your comments before they show up in public.  That clearly dampens discussion but I believe it is necessary for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.  Since blogging is not my full time job, I generally log in about once a day and approve the comments; sometimes – especially when I’m travelling – it is less often.  Sorry, but that is why your comments take a while to get posted.

 

When you write a comment, I automatically get it in an email.  I generally read these first on my blackberry; but the bb does not have the capability to log into our blogging software and allow me to approve the comments for posting – I must get my real computer booted up, logged on, etc., to do that.  One interesting feature of the software is that emails announcing your blog comment show to me (and me only) your email address.  So if you really want to remain anonymous from me, you might keep that in mind.  I rarely write to folks on their email, but do so occasionally.

 

The number one reason I don’t post comments is that many of them are spam.  Somebody with a foreign email address comments “Really liked your post.  I need to move money to my relatives in the US.  Please log onto this web site and put your bank account number and I will send $5 million to you”.  Yeah, right.  Or “Buy cheap pharmaceuticals at xxx.com”.  Nope, I’m not about to let the comments to an agency website blog become a host for fraudulent – or even legitimate – business advertisement.  If your comment including the “signature” contains a website or email address, I will not post your comment.  The software the NASA website uses does not allow me to edit comments, so I either have to approve them entirely or they don’t get posted.  Spammers will not get posted. 

 

I will not post comments on UFOs, conspiracy theories, perpetual motion, or other crackpot topics.  Nor will I post comments that are obscene, comments that advocate violence, or comments that cross over to pure disrespect.  I’m the sole judge of these on my blog.   

 

I have a strong obligation to post comments that I disagree with.  I will even allow people to call me (but only me) names.  I got a real zinger the other day and I’m still smarting over it, but you can find it posted.  It’s a free country, everybody is entitled to their option. 

 

What I’d like to do is provide some small window into how things work at NASA, what has happened in my career, and what I’ve learned along the way.  I don’t have all the answers, I don’t make agency policy, nor am I a management consultant.  I have made more than my share of mistakes, but hopefully I’ve learned from them and make fewer now than in my earlier days. 

 

I hope you find my blog interesting.  Now that I’ve started, it is hard to keep quiet. 

 

More to come.

Another History Lesson

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James A. Michener was a very popular author who wrote massive historical fiction books.  Several of these were turned into successful movies including “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” and “Hawaii”.  Others were made into TV miniseries like “Centennial.”   His stories were the basis for the classic musical “South Pacific.”  Obviously, Michener had a talent for reaching the popular culture in his day. 

A very good author of fiction can highlight human emotions and motivations in ways that strict historians cannot.  Really good fiction can help us understand the truths that underlie human life and its interactions.  Michener was always interested in what makes people tick. 

For the last week, a short section of his novel “Space” has been on my mind.  This part of the written work didn’t make the Hollywood film version; a pity that it didn’t. 

I’ve been wrestling on how to interpret this snippet in a blog; so far I have imagined at least 5 different ways to apply it as analogy to America’s space program in these days.  These applications are good for various positions in the current debate on space.  Picking one would probably give too much aid and comfort to one group and arouse the ire of the others.  So I won’t give you my interpretation.  I’ll offer the section for your consideration and wait for your comments to see how you think it applies today.

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Near the end of the book, one of the fictional characters recounts an actual historical event as part of a planetarium show. 

“When the lights go down we shall see the heavens as they are outside this planetarium.  Now, I’m going to turn the sky-clock back 922 years.  It is again June 22 in A.D. 1054.  The sky look almost the same as it does tonight, a few planets in different positions, but that’s about all.

‘I’m going to speed through eighteen days, and here we have the heavens as they appeared at sunset on the night of 10 July 1054.  Let’s go to midnight in Baghdad, where Arabic astronomers are looking at the sky, as they always did.  Nothing unusual.  Now its 11 July 1054, toward three in the morning.  Still nothing exceptional.  But look!  There in the constellation Taurus!”

In the silence of the planetarium the audience watched in awe as an extremely brilliant light began to emerge from the far tip of the Bull’s horn.  It exceeded anything else in the heavens, infinitely brighter even than Venus, and increasing in brilliance each moment.

‘It was a supernova, in the constellation Taurus, and we know the exact date because Arabic astronomers in many countries saw it and made notes which confirmed the sightings in China.  Indians in Arizona saw it and marveled.  In the South Pacific, natives marked the miracle.  And watch as the daylight comes in 1054!  The new star is so bright it can be seen even against the rays of the Sun, which was not far off in Cancer.

‘For twenty-three days, the astronomers of Cathay and Araby tell us, this supernova dominated the sky, almost as bright as the sun, the most incandescent event in recorded history.  No other nova ever came close to this one. . . . .

‘This great star, which must have been the most extraordinary sight in the history of the heavens during mankind’s observation, was noted in China, in Arabia, in Alaska, in Arizona, and in the South Pacific, for we have their records to prove it.  But in Europe nobody saw it.  From Italy to Moscow, from the Urals to Ireland, nobody saw it.  At least, they made no mention of it. they lived through one of the Earth’s most magnificent spectacles and nobody bothered even to note the fact in any parchment, or speculate upon it in any manuscript.

‘We know the event took place, for with a telescope tonight we can see the remnants of the supernova hiding in Taurus, but we have searched every library in the western world without finding a single shred of evidence that the learned people of Europe even bothered to notice what was happening about them.

‘An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.'”

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http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap091025.html

Godspeed Endeavour and your crew. 

Straight Arrow

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Last Sunday I got to sit with a respected retired NASA executive who just happens to be a Canadian transplant to the steamy gulf coast.   After the service was over we had a chat about his early experience with the Avro Arrow.  His brief assessment:  “Devastating at the time; but it was the best thing that ever happened to me personally.  It led to a marvelous career.”

 

That is something to think about in these times. 

 

In case you are not familiar with the history, the A. V. Roe – Canada aircraft company Avro Arrow in flightwas a major designer and manufacturer of military aircraft in the Toronto, Ontario area during the cold war.  In the early 1950’s Avro began designing a groundbreaking advanced fighter/interceptor to deal with the Soviet bomber menace.  The Arrow, a delta winged supersonic aircraft, was cutting edge – perhaps the best design of its era.  As with many other advanced aircraft of the time, several years passed as the design team worked feverishly to overcome technical obstacles.  They also had to incorporate significant new requirements which were added late in the design process by the Canadian air force.  The prototype first flew in the same day Sputnik was launched, October 4, 1957. 

 

 

 

Good technical progress was being made with several prototypes in flight test and final production design being firmed up when disaster struck.  A new Canadian government, for reasons that are too complex to discuss here, unexpectedly cancelled the Arrow program on February 20, 1959.  All prototypes, design documents, and production jigs were ordered destroyed to keep the advanced aerodynamic information from possibly falling into the hands of Soviet spies.  Within a few months, Avro laid off over 14,000 personnel.  It is estimated that an even larger number of vendors and parts suppliers were out of work due to the cancellation. 

 

Some of the very best of the laid-off Avro engineers found work with a new agency of the US Government.  They went to work for the Space Task Group in Langley, Virginia.  The old timers and the history books tell us that these immigrants played an absolutely crucial role in the success of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.  Their legacy in aerodynamics, engineering, management, and leadership still resonates in the agency.  The legacy of the Arrow can even be seen in the delta winged Space Shuttle.  They had “marvelous careers.”

 

Change is inevitable; life goes on.  Change moves us out of our comfort zones.  The question is not whether there will be change, but what will you do when change occurs?  Out of a personal disaster, how will you create a marvelous new career?  But remember, nothing great was ever accomplished by comfortable men.   

 

The future belongs to those who overcome circumstances, the ones who can adapt and succeed, the ones who can make take advantage of the opportunity that is hidden from plain view.  

 

For those who are hurting, this is thin comfort to be sure, but it’s that I can offer.