The first test flight of the Orion capsule had a number of environmental and technical issues that prevented its launch today. First was a boat in the safety zone (someone thinking they had the perfect spot to watch the launch, no doubt.) Then it was high winds, then a fuel valve that didn’t close as commanded.
Aerospace has many stories about the persistent balancing and managing of tight constraints. Solving complex engineering and design problems is very much like squeezing jello in your hands, as my graduate advisor at Penn State University, Dr. Mark Maughmer, would say. (I trust he doesn’t mind the reference. It’s a wonderful analogy that has stuck with me ever since I heard it.)
You solve one problem, only to have another parameter or part of your system exceed it’s thresholds in a different way. Within all of this constant squeezing we have the constraints of time, cost, and people (staffing) that must be satisfied too.
In today’s case, the team did their best to solve or manage everything but then the launch window closed. The launch window was defined by the time we would be able to watch and recover the capsule during daylight on the west coast, after it completes two Earth orbits.
And so the team will prepare and persevere again for another attempt tomorrow. If you aren’t persistent, you aren’t going to have a long career in aerospace or rocket science.
Speaking of perseverance, yesterday marks the passing of a very influential and prolific psychologist, philosopher, and author Nathaniel Branden. He is credited by many as being the father of the self-esteem movement. (I would say the authentic self-esteem movement, as opposed to the pseudo self-esteem movement, but let’s not go into that here.)
What does this have to do with rocket science? Well, rocket science (and rocket launches) depend on a lot of people. People who must do the right things, at the right times, in an effective manner. If a person lacks confidence or assertiveness to perceive the reality around them, or the confidence or assertiveness to speak up when they see something wrong, there are going to be millions (even billions) of dollars on the line, human lives at stake, and years of effort at risk. You can learn a lot more about one man’s painful story about this from Alan MacDonald who worked on the Shuttle Challenger program, which I talk about more in Tip #4 of my book.
The Orion team has been working toward this launch for over 8 years, as I mentioned in my blog post yesterday. With credit to everyone on the Orion team who will continue to persist through today and into tomorrow, I’ll leave you with two quotes from Nathaniel Branden.
“Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is as important as the judgment we pass on ourselves.”
“The world belongs to those who persevere.”