July 28, 2005

An Anxious Wait

Let me preface this entire post with the fact I am NOT a space expert. I do not spend my time pouring over space data and the latest and greatest as to what is occurring. I read when I can and so there may be flaws in my assessments as I’ve not had a continual stream of data. Keep that in mind when reading this post. I read what comes out in our newspaper… while I’m on the fly with three crazy kids.

I think it’s been evident even to my newest readers what I do for a living. I’ve worked in the aerospace field for over 12 years. I’m with another company now, as my first employer closed up shop where I live and with a 4 year hiatus raising my kids, I’m now back in my field working for another company, subcontracting to my original employer. I may occasionally poke fun at my old place of work, but I loved my jobs, I loved the people, and I loved my customer.

During the 12 years I worked for the company I now subcontract for… uppermost on all of our minds, all of the time, was the safety of the men and women who used our products. Any time a plane went down, and we’d get the red border paper across our desk, my first thought was ‘Did he get out?’ It would be easy for me to say that was a natural reaction since my father was a career Naval Aviator, but it is not true… everyone I worked with felt that way. Everyone. Retired military, former military, military brats such as myself, and born and raised civilians. All of us felt the same chill when a plane went down… that was someone’s father/son/brother/uncle in that plane. And if a fatality was the result of an accident, my second reaction, after fighting the rising bile in my throat, would be, “Please God, don’t let it have been because of our product.”

I don’t remember a time when it was, not saying it has never happened, but typically pilots eject upon realizing they have a system problem. They don’t mess around with a mechanical malfunction if they don't have to.

There are times in all industries when we see things that alarm us… those working in the trenches with the data… things that we bring to people’s attentions, but for some reason get ignored. It could be myriad reasons: our approach, too many things similar have been brought up and amounted to nothing, or nobody ‘wants’ to listen to the gloom and doom, are to name a few. I worked in a job where all we saw was the bad stuff… that was my job. It was tedious to bring it all up… all the time… but that was my job.

But it happens. So when I heard what happened on Challenger nearly 2 years ago, I immediately said, “Someone brought this up… some data engineer like me… someone somewhere saw this coming… and it was ignored… for one reason or another.” Been there, done that. It’s frustrating. I’ve been the person sitting in a big panic meeting after some sort of incident, sitting stoically, something I projected to happen did in fact occur, and thinking, “I.Told.You.So.Ass.Hole.” However, the difference was, in what I was working, lives were never in danger. NEVER. Not on those projects.

I was reading the paper today, reading how more debris occurred on this lift off for Discovery and how there are great assurances that all will be fine, as I’m sure it will. Statistically, it will be fine. They know what debris is acceptable and what isn’t… and debris happens on every lift off. I’ll keep praying though… it never hurts.

But my questions are no longer, “What happened? Why did it happen? What are the ramifications? How much damage is there? Is it something that is containable? Is it repairable in flight? What are the long term projections for the Space Shuttle program?”

My questions are, “Can we get them out if all hell breaks loose? Is the egress system sufficient? Will they have warning to make an egress attempt?”

My questions are much more basic. Mine are life and death. As they have always been.

Posted by Boudicca at July 28, 2005 10:42 PM | TrackBack