Orion FRR is a model you can use

Good news for the NASA Orion deep space crew vehicle!  The public learned that the Flight Readiness Review was successfully completed with the team led by Lockheed Martin.


What does this mean and how could it help you become a rocket scientist?  Great questions!  Here now is (hopefully) a great answer.

In large and complex aerospace programs, it is a best practice (and standard approach) to have major milestone events that serve as “check points” for program status and progress.  Program leaders, managers, technical experts, customers, and major suppliers gather to review and assess cost, schedule, technical data, quality, and processes.  In some organizations these are called formal design reviews.  In other contexts they are called stage-gate reviews or go/no-go reviews.

These large reviews will have entrance criteria and exit criteria.  The meeting shouldn’t be held until all of the entrance criteria are satisfied (meaning, we’ve done everything the stakeholders have agreed needed to be done before we hold the meeting).  Then at the meeting, the exit criteria are used for everyone to judge and concur on whether everything has been completed as needed.  If not, the next phase of the program or next big event is held up (on purpose) until the exit criteria have been satisfied.

When human lives are on the line or millions (or billions) of dollars are at stake, using appropriate criteria and involving the relevant stakeholders (involving many disciplines and systems) is a methodical way to reduce the risk of oversights, failures, or poor quality.

The Flight Readiness Review (FRR) is the milestone event that was held to ensure that the Orion capsule is ready for a test launch in less than two weeks.  They held this review this far in advance of the scheduled launch date so that any open or newly-discovered issues or action items could be worked between the review and the launch date.  Obviously, if major issues or concerns were discovered, the launch date would probably have to be postponed.  But a major objective of these formal reviews is to verify and validate that everything that needs to be ready, is.

How can you use or apply this practice?  A simpler and more streamlined form of entrance and exit criteria is a checklist.  Checklists are simple but powerful tools to enforce a consistent level of quality and results.  It’s why they are used in pilot procedures, hospital operating rooms, jet engine replacements, and countless other scenarios.

Think about the actions or processes you have that represent significant milestones, deliveries, or events that will determine if & when you become a rocket scientist.  You should be thinking about things like sending out resumes, having an interview, arriving for your first day of work…

What if you had a checklist to use before you hit “Submit” or walked into the interview office?  You would have a tool that ensured you did and checked everything that was important.  You would have a tool that you could revise and improve as you learn what worked well or what didn’t (capturing lessons learned, as we like to say).  And you would be treating your career like a professional who cares about quality, diligence, and reliability.

Plus, you could have a little fun with it by creating your own names, forms, & acronyms…some people like that.  The people who plan, oversee, and own these formal reviews in many organizations are called Systems Engineers.  But Systems Engineers often do other things or have other roles in organizations.  (Job titles and responsibilities are NOT consistent across aerospace companies and organizations so I’m giving you a typical or common title, but don’t assume it’s always true.)

To gain more appreciation for checklists and get more ideas about how they can improve many areas of your life, I recommend the book “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande.  (Amazon link here.) In that you’ll see that the aerospace profession is a leading example of why checklists are smart to use.  Learn from the Orion program and other rocket scientists to apply these tools and principles for your own career success.


About Brett Rocket Scientist

Brett creates artful work in engineering, ideas, and innovation. In addition to 2 degrees, 3 patents, and over 15 years experience in aerospace engineering, he is the author of several books to foster STEM careers. He volunteers his time and skills as an officer with professional societies.

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