I haven’t blogged yet about my NASA Tweetup experiences, for the most part because I’m worried about coming across as too emotional about the entire experience. As I previously posted, I’m attending a special NASA program that brings 150 Twitter users from around the world to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of the Shuttle Endeavour on her last mission, STS-134. I started this post hoping to keep it as a short overview. It’s not.
Pre-Tweetup – Level Green
The launch was originally scheduled for mid-April, then that was moved to 29 April due to a traffic jam in space. No worries. I arrived here in Florida on 26 April. Wednesday I picked up my credentials and then went over to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to add to my space brain, the term I’ve been using for being inundated with science about space exploration. I also met up with my house mates of Venus House for the first time.
Thursday – Level Orange
Thursday we headed over to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to get settled in the Tweetup Tent (affectionately referred to as the twent). I new we were going to be close to the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building, but I had no idea we’d be parking right next to it. That was just awe-inspiring. There we met our fellow Tweetup attendees. We started with the obligatory “everybody introduce yourselves, tell us where you are from and something interesting about you”. Crap. Interesting? Okay, I’ll say that I’m a…well, let’s wait to see what everyone else says. I was sitting on the far end, near the air conditioners. They started on the other side. As people stood up to say who they were I sat there stunned by the number of accomplishments and backgrounds. Quick…what the hell can I say that is interesting? Somehow “I like data” just didn’t seem to be that interesting with this group. Attendees came from all walks of life: 3 -time Jeopardy champion, Internet company founders, Twitter staff, rocket scientists, TV and film stars, musicians, pilots, journalists…well, you can read what most said about themselves at http://nasatweet.com/wiki/STS134_Fun_facts …but I think that most people were a bit too humble about their interesting things. So I finally settled on “I’m a former national spokesperson for Women in IT. I help encourage girls to take more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)” That seemed to go over well, with this crowd being STEM friendly. I mentioned that I had brought the technical Barbies with me to enjoy the launch, too. I was already starting to have the overwhelming feeling that this Tweetup was going to be something like I’ve never experienced before. Emotions were at Alert Level Orange by that point.
We did a tour of the KSC property, including the inside of the VAB. There we got to see Atlantis being prepped for her last voyage soon after Endeavour’s trip. Did I tell you we got to go inside? That’s insane. There aren’t normal tours for going inside the VAB. I guess to other people it’s just where they work. For me it was just amazing. I need to find another word. Someone find me a thesaurus.
Thursday was a full program of speakers from NASA, including astronauts and staff. More on that later. We were supposed to go out near the pad to watch the retraction, but freaky storm weather cancelled that. My first disappointment. Emotions still at Level Orange, but barely.
Friday – Level Red
On Friday we headed back over to KSC ready to experience an opportunity of a lifetime — to see the launch from just over 3 miles away. To put this in perspective, if you were 400 yards from the launch the heat and flame would kill you. If you were 800 yards from the launch, the sound would kill you. So 3 miles is close. It’s as close as non-workers can get. Emotion Levels were Reddish Orange, sort of like a tequila sunrise. I set up my tripod to reserve a space. Right next to a tripod from an international camera crew. My tripod looked sad next to theirs, but it was setup and ready to go. More exciting program inside the twent happened, and I’ll post pictures of that in a later post.
Every presenter over the two days spoke of the emotion and the feeling of awe of what they did for a living. It was all about STEM, but overall the most blow-me-away thoughts were about humanity, peace, the meaning of life, and…emotions. As each person spoke, I could see the passion they had about the work they did; they were changing the world and they loved every minute of it.
Sadly, as Rob blogged, the launch was scrubbed about noon on Friday due to a mechanical failure. We were terribly disappointed, but all of us understood that safety first is the key phrase. We watched the Astronaut Van drive slowly past, it made an unexpected turn into the VAB drive. We were hoping that it was just making a special drive by of the special observation area, but it wasn’t to be. I was interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered about this disappointment. I found out that interview made it to the air because people all over the US started tweeting that they heard me on their drives home from work. How wonderful is that?
I have to say that seeing that Astro Van take a turn when it wasn’t supposed to was heartbreaking. It wasn’t a crushing blow because I was by then riding a full RED ALERT emotionally already. I had experienced so many amazing things up to then it didn’t matter. The launch would happen when Endeavour was ready for it to happen.
Later in the afternoon President Obama arrived, even though the launch had been scrubbed, to meet the astronauts and their families. We were able to wave to him as he waved back at us, a bunch of Twitter Space-crazed photographers.
And then there was more: NASA Tweetup attendee Chris Cardinal proposed to attendee Nina Tallman, right in front of the Countdown Clock. As a fellow geek, that was so amazing to see. My emotions were now just going crazy. I took a bazillion pictures.
Most of us stayed in the twent, listening to ad hoc program presentations, chatting about everything that had been happening so far, and talking about making extended travel arrangements. We looked forward to a launch in the next 48 hours. All was fine.
Saturday – SQLSaturday
When the scrub was announced, Kendal van Dyke (twitter and another former NASATweetup attendee) reminded me there was a SQLSaturday happening in Jacksonville. I caught a ride with him and two other great SQL community members Bradley Ball (twitter) and Dan Taylor( twitter). So I got to spend time with the rocking SQL Community at the last minute. What a great opportunity. For the ride back we were all really tired and we had great gut-busting laughs, the kind that are hilarious if you are tired, entirely stoked from being with a great community and punchy from getting only a couple of hours of sleep. Thanks, guys, for taking care of me and the Technical Barbies. Oh, and for letting me be part of your SQLRoadtrip.
Now – Back to Tequila Red Orange
I have many photos and blog posts to share and am struggling with how to not overly spam this blog with them. I have lots of potential blog posts that talk about data, project management, decisions, and costs, benefits and risks. But my main concern is that I’m still GUSHING with emotions and I don’t think my posts will come across as anything but completely insane. I’ve been struggling with this post, trying not to fill it with #FTW #AWESOMESAUCE #ZOMG and 10,000 exclamation points. Did I tell you have pictures?
I so wish I could have taken every single girl that I talk to about taking more science, technology, math and engineering along with me to see an hear just how freaking rewarding STEM careers are. I’d show them how these careers change the world and make lives better. I’d show them the fabulous role models, how much fun they have, and how being in a community of insanely smart people can make every minute count.
As I am putting the finishing touches on this, NASA just announced that the current date (more about that coming, too) will be pushed back again. I was doing okay travel-wise because I was already planning on being in Orlando for SQLRally on this Saturday. Staying over a few extra days was cheaper and easier, so that’s what I’m doing. As of right now, it will be later and not 10 May as last announced. You know what? I’m still at EMOTION LEVEL RED…ish. All things considered.
Image by nasa hq photo via Flickr
A Right Turn Instead Of A Left Turn
Some time ago, Karen and I put our names in to attend the #NASATweetup scheduled for the last launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134). Karen was chosen and went down last week and had a fabulous experience, but with less than 3 hours to go until the launch it got scrubbed. Throughout that morning they had already worked on a problem with a regulator and had made up for lost time caused by a storm the previous day and it all looked good for a launch. I was watching the tweets and through NASA TV saw the astronauts in the Astro Van heading to the launch pad when they turned right to go back instead of left and we found out the launch was scrubbed. As of right now, a new launch date has not been set as they work on the problem and determine when the next eligible target launch date can be.
But We’re Going To Disappoint All These People
The launch delay got me thinking about how decisions like that get made especially so close to the deadline and how we could apply this thinking to our own projects. Think about it, the President was on his way, there were numerous dignitaries, 150 #NASATweetup attendees, and an estimated 700,000 others there to watch this historic launch of the last shuttle flight of Endeavour. Can you imagine having to be the one that has to say “not today”? Have you ever been on a project when the executives are there saying “Let’s just go ahead and implement it and we’ll fix it later”?
Your Decision Making Process Is Key And Must Be In Writing
While most of us don’t deal with projects with the same risk factors as NASA does we still have to deal with problems and risk, but how we deal with it is key. As Karen detailed in her post #NASATweetup – It’s a GO! Readiness Reviews and Your Projects this all works when you have everything documented beforehand and you have a formal process for this. In essence, you have algorithms and decision trees that you follow that make sure that you make the right choice and don’t let human emotion and behaviour get in the way. Don’t get me wrong, this was not an immediate decision and I’m sure it was not an easy decision. But if you have all of your options and decision trees, policies and procedures mapped out ahead of time then the decision is based on those written policies and not subject to human emotion.
In the announcement of the delay Shuttle Launch Director, Mike Leinbach, stated:
Today, the orbiter is not ready to fly…we will not fly before we’re ready.
This was not a decision taken lightly, but after thoroughly evaluating the problem and determining if it could be fixed prior to launch or if it was more serious. But with such a short time to launch they had to make a firm decision, so they did. In my mind, this takes a lot of integrity and strength to be able to stand up and say that they can’t launch.
So the next time you have a problem on one of your projects think about this: WWND – What Would NASA Do? Better yet, when you start a project, write down all the possible scenarios, risks and decisions and a have a formal process so you can follow it when you need to.
Image via Wikipedia
I’ve been tweeting a lot about NASA, the shuttle program, and space anniversaries lately because I’m attending the NASA Tweetup on 28-29 April. I can’t tell you how exciting I am about attending, especially after the 10-day delay we experienced earlier in the month. The delay was due to the Russian mission to the International Space Station (ISS) causing a traffic jam in space, so the Endeavour Shuttle launch was delayed.
Even though the delay was announced well before today, we didn’t know until just now that the date is a go because today was the Flight Readiness Review, where experts do a complete system risk assessment of all the systems and dependencies for Endeavour and the Space Station.
The Flight Readiness Review is a type of design and operations review that ensures that everyone and everything is ready for launch.
- More debris tile to provide more debris protection in more locations
- Systems on board the Space System needed to be checked because Endeavour will be doing maintenance on the Space Station
- Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) being installed on the ISS requires checking
- ET-122, the External Tank, was struck during Hurricane Katrina and needed extra inspection. It is 10 years old and does not have all the improvements that newer tanks have.
If all the systems, people, software, facilities, and other components check out, the launch is scheduled. So today, the official go ahead was given for the scheduled date.
All of this makes me think of larger application production rollouts. I’ve been part of many readiness reviews, both formal and informal. However, this usually with my methodologist or project manager hat on, not very often with a data architect hat. I have a feeling that this is because the normal issues I would raise as a data architect (missing requirements, incorrectly implemented requirements, etc.) would be dealt with much earlier in the process, such as during a normal development quality control test.
Where problems usually arise late in the production cycle are when someone incorrectly sets data, not data structures incorrectly. In even the most dysfunctional shops, most organizations have come to understand that allowing people to make ungoverned structural changes is a huge risk. However, I have not seen nearly enough of the type of controls and monitoring for reference and master data, especially things like reason codes, reference codes (Customer type, Product type, etc.)
What I can appreciate about NASA’s Flight Readiness Reviews:
- Documented. Everyone knows ahead of time what their job is, what is expected, what the quality standards are. They agree to it up front. There are manuals, checklists and checklists of checklists.
- Expected. No cowboy engineer thinks that he can make a quick change just before the launch and force the change to be accepted because it’s too late to undo it or too late to miss the date. No one says "we don’t have time for the FRR. Just put ‘er into production".
- Formal. The review is scheduled. It has assigned tasks. Everyone, even external parties, know that it is coming and understand the role it plays. There’s a press conference for the results. There are probably even signatures.
- Open. As far as I can tell, the results of each check is shared openly. Even the "fixes". The results are published. Media can ask questions and the live results were tweeted throughout the day.
- Reflective. The review concentrates on failures, damages, problems and issues of previous flights. These issues aren’t swept under the rug in hopes they don’t happen again.
- Risk-based. There are issues documented. They are assessed against risk and probably cost. Time is of the essence, but it isn’t the only discussion. Risk is inherent in the space program. Understanding it and mitigating it is the name of the game. Avoiding all risk would mean no space program
Of course, the reason NASA has such a strong governance process for shuttle flights is because lives are at risk, as well as a huge pile of money. This doesn’t mean that our own application systems can’t do harm. I tweet regularly about data breaches, customers who are harmed financially and businesses that are lost due to poor data policies. Often these failures are due to poor governance.
Even if you project does not have a formal readiness review you can have your own personal process. I have many checklists and tests I run on data models and scripts I generate. These are my own readiness reviews. I share them with team members. There’s a reason why NASA has readiness reviews and there are important reason why you should, too.
Just in case you don’t follow me on Twitter, I received great news last week that I have been selected to attend the most amazing event, the NASA Tweetup, an invitation-only in-person meeting of space aficionados on Twitter. The meeting takes place in the same area where traditional media hangs out. There will be about 150 of us space geeks converging in Florida to watch one of the last shuttle launches. This is officially the last funded launch, but NASA has stated that they will have one more launch to do some maintenance work on the Space Station.
Someone from a former NASA Tweetup crowd made the following image to show just why this meetup is special:
The Tweetup is planned for 2 days, although it is all based on the when the Shuttle Endeavour will actually launch (currently scheduled for 19 April 2011). During those two days there will be socializing, chatting, special speakers, interviews, a ton of picture taking, more socializing…and watching the launch. I hope. It’s nice that I can stay the whole week if I have to. Some other launches have been delayed — one for over 4 months.
In preparation for this once-in-a-lifetime event for me, I’ve been trying to study up on the Shuttle program. Early in my career I worked at Space Division in Los Angeles and in Washington, DC. The projects I worked on involved space initiatives, including shuttle missions. I remember heading down to the officers club every time there was a launch or landing. It was so exciting being in that environment, where people work working on efforts that truly expanded our knowledge of the universe.
I was also lucky in that I had a meeting in Washington, DC this past Monday, so I was able to spend a couple of hours at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. In a following post, I’ll share some of the photos I captured there. I also watched Hubble 3D, an IMAX film about repairs made to the Hubble telescope during a previous mission. What was interesting was that Astronaut Drew Feustel, who appeared in the film, will also be a crew member of STS-134, the Shuttle mission for this NASA Tweetup. Drew is also a Boilermaker, attending Purdue about the same time I did.
As some other Tweetup attendees have said, I feel as if I have won a golden ticket to a most amazing experience. I will be writing about this event over the next couple of weeks, but I promise to tie it all back to data and information. Think of it as a DataChick view of space data.
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