Mistakes: Errors, faults, slip-ups, bloopers, miscalculations. We all make em. America’s Funniest Home Videos, UTUBE and Candid Camera, all demonstrate goofing up is part of our culture and our condition. We all make mistakes.
I created and sold advertising for a living when I first started working. It’s a tough business, not much room for mistakes, especially printed mistakes. Some of you may remember Ivan Kauffman. He owned the Diagnostic Center and was a race car driver. More important to me, he was a gentleman. Early one morning I was delivering a printed program to Ivan’s office at the Diagnostic Center. The program has an ad for the Center. He looked over the program, and then turned around to make a phone call. When he hung up he told me he called the lady whose phone number was on his ad. Oh boy. I apologized immediately, offered him a free ad, and fumbled around trying to figure out how to fix it. Ivan smiled, leaned in and said don’t worry, if you are doing nothing you won’t make mistakes. He took the free ad, and told me to keep working hard. That conversation happened at least forty years ago. I still work hard, and benefit daily from kindness and understanding.
New Mexico State University is a great place to work; I say it a lot in this column. The people who fumbled on my project are also the ones we count on late at night to fix broken pipes, get the electricity back on; they keep the place a safe environment for thousands of people every day. They always come through for us. I am grateful for their work on our behalf. No one can assume no matter how many safeguards are put in place that everything will go right all the time.
As of the writing of this article, there is still no definitive word on what happened to the Malaysia Airline’s flight 370. The satellites and radar used to track airliners have not been able to pinpoint the location of debris, nor definitively determine what happened to this aircraft. When something very out of the ordinary suddenly happens, few of us cope well initially. The shock triggers the fight flight reaction. Frequent travelers know the frustration of flight delays.
The air traffic system is a closed loop system. Everything impacts everything else. If my flight is delayed, I know likely something in the system created the delay. For example, mechanical trouble on one flight may delay the flight crew for my flight. Airlines know how to keep people and planes moving to keep to schedules, even in great uncertainty. Thousands of people work in harmony daily to keep thousands more able to get their work done. I don’t think about this much until something goes off schedule.
It is a natural instinct to ask what happened, and how do we prevent this in the future? As we prepare for operations of the world’s first spaceline here at Spaceport America, I think frequently, let the people designing that flight system take the time they need to get it right. Chris Anderson said it well recently; she worked for the Air Force many years. Space craft are complex, and they take time to run through their test programs. And they are not done until they are done. This recent airline mystery helps put what we are working on here in New Mexico into perspective. Even with extremely mature systems like air transportation, we can still be surprised.
One of the people I talk to frequently is Wayne Hale. A New Mexican by birth, he is the former NASA Shuttle Program Manager. We were discussing a systems engineering processing chart. How come? I want a better way to help people understand why Virgin Galactic is taking so long to start operations. What is the first question a system engineer will ask? What are the top level system requirements? Take 6 commercial passengers and 2 pilots 62 miles to space and return them safely. This has never been done in the history of manned spaceflight. The system must work the first time and every time after that. Safety is essential. Because of the system requirements, it takes longer and costs more. We don’t know enough yet to be in a hurry. In the meantime, the people at the spaceport are working to keep the spaceport moving forward servicing their customers. Everyone must work in harmony as we expect when we fly anywhere.