February 1st, 2003


Contact! Is the secret! it's the moment! when everything happens...

Got this e-mail forward from missniceness that was one of those "back in time" things, full of images of toys we used to play with in the 80s. Good stuff. I just told a story a few days ago in my forum about running around my house in a cape pretending to be she-rah: princess of power, and I did a high kick and my toenail got caught in the carpet and ripped halfway off. blood everywhere. I think I was like six.

But my childhood injuries were not the point of this entry... no! I just wanted to say that the television show 3-2-1 Contact probably changed my life. Honestly. I didn't watch a ton of t.v. as a kid but I loved this show, it was about all these random people doing science stuff, they'd do little experiments and have short sketches based on science stuff. I have a very clear memory of being in like the first grade and telling some kid, "Well you can't see everything, because nobody can see ultraviolet light. Duh."

good times, good times. now, if only they could make a really cool kids show about engineers...

Space Shuttle Destroyed on Re-Entry

So Mom calls me on the phone and she's like, "Is your TV on?" and I'm like, "Of course, Saturday mornings I always watch mystery science 3000 on the sci-fi channel." She's like, "Turn to a real channel, something awful has happened..." and I hear about the space shuttle.

They don't really know what happened yet but this is a tragedy that words can't describe. Everyone on my friends page is talking about it, but I feel I must address the issue too.

It is so hard to think about, and I absolutely cannot imagine how anyone who works at NASA feels right now. That fear. I don't work in aerospace, but I do work in the aircraft industry, so from that point of view, I want everyone to know how I feel.

The things we build do not fall out of the sky. There are no mechanical failures. There are no electrical failures. We live in a "failure is not an option" world, where no critical system ever has a chance of failing greater than 10-9. Do you know what that means? What it is? How many people it takes to accomplish this? Most of you don't know how thick the FAA certification book is, or what a fault tree is, or how people at our company freak out if we get one call from the field about how one light lit up for the wrong reason. It's insanity when that happens, and it's so small. How could anything just break up?

The machines man makes are breathtakingly complex now, but we can make them perfect. And when we put something into the sky, we are certain in not only our minds, but our hearts, that it will be safe. Because peoples' lives are at risk here, and that's what it takes.

And the space program embodies all of that. It's the greatest risk, but it's put forth with the greatest minds we have, and the greatest tools, and the greatest efforts. In my industry, there are occasional pilot errors. Not at NASA. I used to not understand what a "test pilot" was until I started my job five months ago. Astronauts usually once were test pilots, and test pilots are incredible people, geniuses. They can recover from anything. They have hundreds of thousands of flight hours. They keep cool in any situation and take every mission totally seriously. Test pilots are incredible, they are better than machines.

So how do we recover from something like this? We have put everything into this program and something has gone wrong.

I just don't know what to say. I was six years old when the Challenger exploded, didn't understand what it meant.

I hoped I would never understand.