Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Flashback to 1988

It may not surprise you to know that I carry around a 2009 desk calendar entitled "The Year in Space.".......yeah, didn't think so.

It is so nifty because not only does it include an awesome space picture for every week of the year, but it also lists space-related events' anniversaries and such. For example:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
1977: Salyut 6 space station launched

1988:
STS-26 Discovery launched, first Shuttle flight since Challenger disaster
2001: First satellite launch from Alaska

And today as I read those three space events, I couldn't help but reflect on the Challenger disaster. I even thought about typing one of those cliche questions Carrie always asks on the show Sex in the City....like, "What have we learned since that fateful day in January 1986?"

A day that started like this....


And ended only 73 seconds later like this....



And how appropriate, this taken from the official Government review of the Challenger accident...
"The expression Lessons Learned has been an important concept in NASA and aerospace industries for many years. It was conceived as a tool to perpetuate experience and keep from repeating costly mistakes. If this is to be done, the lessons must not only be learned--they must be remembered."

Unfortunately, I'm not sure if the recommendations, or "lessons learned" recorded in the official government report really capture the true root of the problem that dismantled a great space shuttle and killed seven heroic astronauts. The review calls for more "program oversight" and "program and safety management".

The problem is, it was these "overseers" and "managers" that made the call to launch that day. The peon engineer who showed the managers that the temperature was too low (out of the chart range) was pushed aside to make way for personal agendas and ultimately the chance to gain more government funds. And from my own personal experience at NASA this summer, if there is one thing NASA doesn't need it's more managers. NASA needs to return to its own roots and invest in people and engineers who are willing to speak up, who know how to complete the calculations, who put lives ahead of their own personal agendas.

So...what have we learned from the Challenger accident?

We have learned that a routine flight into space is always anything but routine.

Some of us have learned to value safety over speed, and those of us who have learned this are trying our darndest to convince others of it.


We have hopefully learned as a nation that no one is perfect and sometimes it takes an accidental death of seven people to prove that.

And I hope to hell that we have learned to listen to the little people. To question answers that don't seem right. To check and double check and triple check the calculations. To value life above personal agendas.

It took us almost 2 and 1/2 years to build up the courage to launch Discovery after the Challenger accident.

Yes Challenger, we have learned from you--but we are still in the process of
remembering.