After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

Eureka! Solid Planning and Performance Returned Us to the Moon! Is that Any Surprise?

Posted on August 8, 2012
Filed Under Technology | Leave a Comment

We know of a guy, typical of many, probably, who didn’t think it was smart for NASA to make a movie of Curiosity’s Mars landing before it was actually accomplished this week. “It is beyond my limited capacities,” he wrote, “to understand all that went into building and sending the vehicle on its 154 million mile journey. Then, to choose a never-tried, highly complex method of reaching and lowering the vehicle to the surface of the planet is a definition of insanity. Except they did it.”

Indeed so. That meticulous planning and procedures should work in the riskiest of settings isn’t so surprising, if you plan for the riskiest of settings. It’s all in your vision – in this case, NASA’s vision – and the care you take to accomplish it. Technology is controllable, even from a mind-boggling distance, if you plan and execute to make it controllable.

You need a worthy aim and the skill and backing to carry it out. That’s the essence of technical accomplishment. To slow Curiosity from 13,000 miles and hour to two m.p.h as it landed gently on the Martian plain involved a vast amount of conceptualizing and careful execution. But it was accomplished, precisely because it was done carefully.

It doesn’t hurt in drafting a procedure to anticipate the worst that might happen and, thus, keep it from happening. “We trained ourselves for eight years to think the worst all the time,” Curiosity’s lead engineer, Miguel San Martin, said. “You can never turn that off.”

Dennis Owen and I were involved in the defueling the reactor vessel at the accident-damaged Three Mile Island Unit 2 – Dennis as a defueling engineer and Doug in handling the public relations challenge in the neighboring communities. We remember the satisfaction we felt when the reactor was at last empty, with no untoward impact on anyone. That occurred because it was all meticulously planned and performed according to plan.

“Kudos to the agency (NASA in the case of Curiousity),” my once-dubious acquaintance wrote on the Web. May it serve them well at budget time.” Indeed so. – Doug Bedell


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