With the space shuttle flights winding down, we’ve been wondering where NASA will be heading next. The answer is, first to an asteroid by 2025, then Mars, where they hope to arrive by the 2030s. The space agency won’t be building a brand new spaceship to get there. Instead, it will be modifying the Orion spacecraft that’s been part of the Constellation program.
Meanwhile, there will be unnmaned exploratory flights, like the Mars Science Laboratory, scheduled for launching this fall, and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutionN (MAVEN) mission planned for late 2013.
NASA’s website is a fascinating place to roam all by itself. It has details of all that the space agency is planning to do, and the assistance in terms of engineering and science education needed to accomplish its space goals.
It’s spring, and we’re called to note some of the wonders outside our window, like bees buzzing from blossom to blossom. They never seem to collide with anything, but always alight where they’re presumably headed. How do they do that?
It seems they have optic flow controllers that aviators envy. The website physorg.com advises that a bee’s tiny brain gets input from a visual system that includes a dorsal, or overhead, view. As a bee flies, it gets inputs from the front to the back of its visual field, optic flows that are “defined as the angular speed of environmental contrasts passing through its visual field.” All that feedback in a bee’s nervous system of a hundred thousand to a million neurons. Talk about tight packaging!
French scientists built a bee flight chamber, pictured here, with a complex geometric shape intended to baffle the insects. “This flight chamber had several constrictions where the floor and ceiling, or the side walls, converged. The researches observed that a bee’s speed decreased in proportion to the narrowest point of passage in the flight chamber, whether the constriction was horizontal or vertical.
Knowing what we’re doing requires ready, reliable observational methods – preferably, a method. The best method we know (though we wouldn’t claim to be expert in it) is statistical process control (SPC) based on principles espoused by the late Dr. W. Edwards Deming and the work and writings of Deming disciples like Donald J. Wheeler.
Dr. Deming was a godlike statistician who had a profound understanding of his discipline, so profound that he expressed it simply, and really caught your attention (if only on videotapes) with questions like: “What do you want to accomplish?,” “By what method will you accomplish it?” and “How will you know?”
Donald Wheeler had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Deming in 1972, working with him thereafter and writing or editing materials about him. He and his wife, Fran, founded SPC Press in 1986, which published Deming’s biography, The World of W. Edwards Deming, by his long-time secretary, Cecelia S. Kilian, in 1992. (Dr. Deming’s own “bible,” Out of the Crisis, was published by MIT a decade or so earlier.)
We noted that Don Wheeler is to receive the 2010 Deming Medal from the American Society for Quality (ASQ) in Pittsburgh this weekend, and felt it appropriate to note Dirk Dusharme’s May 4 interview with him at Quality Digest.
Businessweek provides an example of why focus and inspired priorities are so important to building, or rebuilding, a business. Siemens’ return to prominence after a bribery scandal more than three years ago is a tribute to its new President and CEO, Peter Löscher, who, the magazine advises, put first things first and is keeping them there.
Vision, values and the processes to insure they are taken seriously are crucial to corporate renewal. “Being good today means you have to be better tomorrow, and even better the day after tomorrow,” Löscher says. “The biggest risk is complacency.”
Evidently, complacency almost brought Siemens down. The company was run as a collection of corporate fiefdoms with little accountability (values) by divisional managers. Now, under a new management roster, it’s been restructured partly around “green” businesses (vision) .
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