Status Report

Message from Wayne Hale

By SpaceRef Editor
May 15, 2005
Filed under ,

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think it was going to be this hard or take this long to get the Shuttle flying again. Two years ago the job seemed rather simple. Just a couple of months ago, I thought we just about had it in the bag. But recent events have set us back some, and dealing with that is tough.

Late last year, when the preparations were being made to ship ET-120 to KSC as the Return To Flight Tank, we knew that there was insufficient data to determine the tank was safe to fly. A significant amount of analysis was still required to fully understand the debris transport and impact, especially ice. Several folks felt strongly that once the tank was shipped to KSC, and especially once it was mated to the orbiter, that program management would find it impossible to make a hard decision if the data showed further work required. And it is true that the closer we come to launch, the harder it is to pull back. But once the full analysis and testing on ice was completed and presented at the Debris Verification Review, there was no doubt that eliminating the ice from dangerous locations must be done. To be true to our commitment to safety, we have to stop and do this right.

Frankly, there were also a few other open issues at the Debris Verification Review that require more analysis to ensure that we are safe to fly.

But the biggie turned out to be the tanking test. At the time, everything seemed to go really well, just a couple of relatively minor issues to be dealt with. But with more study, we know that was not the case, and it turns out that there is more work to be done.

It is no fun to come close to success just to find that more work is required. As a matter of fact, it is very difficult. Rather than complain that life unfair and we deserve better, it is time to be mature, to accept setback with a modicum of grace, and to pick up the shovel and start again to dig ourselves out of the hole.

Remember what we have done in the last two years. It turns out that there are many areas — not just a few — where we had let our guard down to dangerous levels before 107 and didn’t realize it. Having taken a critical eye to every aspect of our business, we uncovered the problems and then proceeded to pound them flat, and we will be TREMENDOUSLY safer because of this work. Perhaps even more important, we have re-established the old NASA culture of doing it right, relying more on test and less on talk, requiring exacting analysis, doing our homework. We are, even now, bringing up the new generation of space workers who will carry this bitterly earned lesson into our future programs.

Make no mistake about it, we will succeed. Character is being built. Discipline is being reinforced. These hard earned traits will serve to prepare us for even bigger challenges than returning the Shuttle to flight.

During the worst days of World War II Winston Churchill spoke to the Britons in words that can apply to us today: “Do not let us speak of darker days; let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days — the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable.”

These are not dark days; they are only sterner days.

At times, it seems to me that there is a Zen force at work in the universe which has set this test in our path to see if we are worthy of success.

Worthiness that is measured by a commitment to discipline, rigor, and thoroughness over expedience; worthiness that is measured in work that stretches into evenings, weekends, holidays to the sacrifice of our families or our personal health; worthiness that requires patience and a civil respect for those who question or disagree with us even when they are hard to understand or worse; worthiness that must be demonstrated by a complete change of heart.

It is not easy. I find myself slipping back into old, bad habits especially when under stress, when fatigued, and mostly when frustrated. So look out for each other. Encourage each other. We succeed or fail as a team, not as individuals.

I told you before that we should remember that “troubles produce perseverance, perseverance produces character, character produces hope, and hope will not disappoint us.” Don’t doubt it.

The character that we will need to explore the universe in this and the succeeding generations is being formed today. Make sure that it is a good character. Make sure that character’s lessons are written firmly on our hearts.

SpaceRef staff editor.