The first is of the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) that surrounds the shuttle while it is being prepared for launch. This happened about noon on 15 May 2011, the day before the launch. We tweet up-ers were taken by buses courtesy of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitor Complex to just outside Pad 39A where Endeavour activities were finishing up prior the launch. I took a screen shot of Google Maps on my phone to show the location near where we viewed the retraction.
I was able to get a bazillion pictures, as the retraction takes about 30 minutes. We all stood there in the Florida sunshine, watching people do their work while the RSS slowly rotated away from the orbiter.
In addition to using real cameras, I also gave Video Girl Barbie a chance to do her own filming with her embedded video camera. Her camera produces low quality recordings, but I find what she does produce to be of decent quality. First up is the retraction video taken on 15 May just outside Pad 39A.
For some more context, this is my photo of Endeavour. That’s how close we where.
The next morning we arrived at KSC just after 3AM. It was especially nice to see the orbiter all lit up. We definitely weren’t as close this time, but being 3.1 miles away meant that we were the closest non-staff viewers of the launch.
Video Girl did a great job filming the launch. You may want to crank up your speakers to get the full effect of the rumbling launch sound.
I have a bunch of pictures to share, and a few draft blog posts hanging around that you’ll see over the next few weeks. I’ll try to spread them out a bit so that you aren’t inundated with all my #spacebrain content all at once.
Image by nasa hq photo via Flickr
A Right Turn Instead Of A Left Turn
Some time ago, Karen and I put our names in to attend the #NASATweetup scheduled for the last launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134). Karen was chosen and went down last week and had a fabulous experience, but with less than 3 hours to go until the launch it got scrubbed. Throughout that morning they had already worked on a problem with a regulator and had made up for lost time caused by a storm the previous day and it all looked good for a launch. I was watching the tweets and through NASA TV saw the astronauts in the Astro Van heading to the launch pad when they turned right to go back instead of left and we found out the launch was scrubbed. As of right now, a new launch date has not been set as they work on the problem and determine when the next eligible target launch date can be.
But We’re Going To Disappoint All These People
The launch delay got me thinking about how decisions like that get made especially so close to the deadline and how we could apply this thinking to our own projects. Think about it, the President was on his way, there were numerous dignitaries, 150 #NASATweetup attendees, and an estimated 700,000 others there to watch this historic launch of the last shuttle flight of Endeavour. Can you imagine having to be the one that has to say “not today”? Have you ever been on a project when the executives are there saying “Let’s just go ahead and implement it and we’ll fix it later”?
Your Decision Making Process Is Key And Must Be In Writing
While most of us don’t deal with projects with the same risk factors as NASA does we still have to deal with problems and risk, but how we deal with it is key. As Karen detailed in her post #NASATweetup – It’s a GO! Readiness Reviews and Your Projects this all works when you have everything documented beforehand and you have a formal process for this. In essence, you have algorithms and decision trees that you follow that make sure that you make the right choice and don’t let human emotion and behaviour get in the way. Don’t get me wrong, this was not an immediate decision and I’m sure it was not an easy decision. But if you have all of your options and decision trees, policies and procedures mapped out ahead of time then the decision is based on those written policies and not subject to human emotion.
In the announcement of the delay Shuttle Launch Director, Mike Leinbach, stated:
Today, the orbiter is not ready to fly…we will not fly before we’re ready.
This was not a decision taken lightly, but after thoroughly evaluating the problem and determining if it could be fixed prior to launch or if it was more serious. But with such a short time to launch they had to make a firm decision, so they did. In my mind, this takes a lot of integrity and strength to be able to stand up and say that they can’t launch.
So the next time you have a problem on one of your projects think about this: WWND – What Would NASA Do? Better yet, when you start a project, write down all the possible scenarios, risks and decisions and a have a formal process so you can follow it when you need to.
Image by lug00ber via Flickr
Yes, it’s time for me to start heading to Orlando, FL, then over to Cocoa Beach to pick up the keys to the condo where 3 wonderfully smart ladies and I will be staying as part of the NASA Tweetup. It seems like I waited forever for this time to arrive. I put the sign, courtesy of Carson Skinner (blog | Twitter) there on my office door to let Rob and Other Rob (my assistant) know that I was away. Just in case they didn’t remember.
Right now the launch is scheduled for Friday, 29 April at 15:47. I’m leaving tomorrow to ensure that I have sufficient padding in my schedule to give the airlines plenty of time to get me there for Wednesday. One of the great things about working remotely is that I can work from anywhere, at least for short periods of time.
On Wednesday, I’ll stop by the Kennedy Space Center to pick up my information packet and to get my NASA Tweetup Badge. My housemates will be arriving on Wednesday throughout the day. Have I told you that I have an amazing group of women to share this experience with? Sue (Texas) works in the space industry, Liz (Minnesota) is a science blogger, TV personality and mom and Sheilah (Ontario) is a children’s librarian. Up until a few weeks ago we’d never met and now we are rooming together and heading off to share a once in a life time experience watching the last flight of the Endeavour space shuttle.
Thursday we will make our way to the Kennedy Space Center for the first day of tours and information. In the morning we’ll get to meet NASA Team members Stephanie Shierholz and John Yembrick who make all this Tweetup magic happen. Next we will get a demonstration of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) and Mark III spacesuits, then lunch in the NASA cafeteria.
Around noon NASA TV will start for the official part of the program:
· Dana M. Hutcherson, space shuttle Endeavour’s flow director, , Kennedy Space Center
· Tara Ruttley, International Space Station associate program scientist, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, @ISS_research
After that, we’ll board a bus for a tour of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, including visits to the Apollo Saturn V Center, a drive by the Shuttle Landing Facility, Mate-Demate Device, Orbiter Processing Facility, Vehicle Assembly Building and Mobile Launcher Platforms, and viewing of the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure, scheduled for 7 p.m.
I think that sounds like a wonderful day. More posts about Friday, the main event (I’m hoping).
Image via Wikipedia
I’ve been tweeting a lot about NASA, the shuttle program, and space anniversaries lately because I’m attending the NASA Tweetup on 28-29 April. I can’t tell you how exciting I am about attending, especially after the 10-day delay we experienced earlier in the month. The delay was due to the Russian mission to the International Space Station (ISS) causing a traffic jam in space, so the Endeavour Shuttle launch was delayed.
Even though the delay was announced well before today, we didn’t know until just now that the date is a go because today was the Flight Readiness Review, where experts do a complete system risk assessment of all the systems and dependencies for Endeavour and the Space Station.
The Flight Readiness Review is a type of design and operations review that ensures that everyone and everything is ready for launch.
- More debris tile to provide more debris protection in more locations
- Systems on board the Space System needed to be checked because Endeavour will be doing maintenance on the Space Station
- Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) being installed on the ISS requires checking
- ET-122, the External Tank, was struck during Hurricane Katrina and needed extra inspection. It is 10 years old and does not have all the improvements that newer tanks have.
If all the systems, people, software, facilities, and other components check out, the launch is scheduled. So today, the official go ahead was given for the scheduled date.
All of this makes me think of larger application production rollouts. I’ve been part of many readiness reviews, both formal and informal. However, this usually with my methodologist or project manager hat on, not very often with a data architect hat. I have a feeling that this is because the normal issues I would raise as a data architect (missing requirements, incorrectly implemented requirements, etc.) would be dealt with much earlier in the process, such as during a normal development quality control test.
Where problems usually arise late in the production cycle are when someone incorrectly sets data, not data structures incorrectly. In even the most dysfunctional shops, most organizations have come to understand that allowing people to make ungoverned structural changes is a huge risk. However, I have not seen nearly enough of the type of controls and monitoring for reference and master data, especially things like reason codes, reference codes (Customer type, Product type, etc.)
What I can appreciate about NASA’s Flight Readiness Reviews:
- Documented. Everyone knows ahead of time what their job is, what is expected, what the quality standards are. They agree to it up front. There are manuals, checklists and checklists of checklists.
- Expected. No cowboy engineer thinks that he can make a quick change just before the launch and force the change to be accepted because it’s too late to undo it or too late to miss the date. No one says "we don’t have time for the FRR. Just put ‘er into production".
- Formal. The review is scheduled. It has assigned tasks. Everyone, even external parties, know that it is coming and understand the role it plays. There’s a press conference for the results. There are probably even signatures.
- Open. As far as I can tell, the results of each check is shared openly. Even the "fixes". The results are published. Media can ask questions and the live results were tweeted throughout the day.
- Reflective. The review concentrates on failures, damages, problems and issues of previous flights. These issues aren’t swept under the rug in hopes they don’t happen again.
- Risk-based. There are issues documented. They are assessed against risk and probably cost. Time is of the essence, but it isn’t the only discussion. Risk is inherent in the space program. Understanding it and mitigating it is the name of the game. Avoiding all risk would mean no space program
Of course, the reason NASA has such a strong governance process for shuttle flights is because lives are at risk, as well as a huge pile of money. This doesn’t mean that our own application systems can’t do harm. I tweet regularly about data breaches, customers who are harmed financially and businesses that are lost due to poor data policies. Often these failures are due to poor governance.
Even if you project does not have a formal readiness review you can have your own personal process. I have many checklists and tests I run on data models and scripts I generate. These are my own readiness reviews. I share them with team members. There’s a reason why NASA has readiness reviews and there are important reason why you should, too.
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