Author Marianne Dyson's
October 2018 Science Snacks Newsletter
The Right Stuff to be a Flight Director
Recently NASA announced the first woman, Holly Ridings, to be selected as Chief of the Flight Director’s Office. Flight directors lead the team of flight controllers in Mission Control. The Chief Flight Director is their boss. To reach this position, a person must demonstrate a high level of integrity: like Randy Stone (1944-2013) who similarly rose up from flight controller to flight director to chief flight director (and eventually led Mission Operations). I'd like to share his story via an excerpt from my memoir.
BEGIN EXCERPT (omissions marked with three dots …)
Diane [Freeman] and I were on the Ascent, or Silver Team, for STS-1. Our Flight Director was Neil Hutchinson who expected only the best and no excuses. And well he should. If something were going to break, it’d most likely happen during the dynamic ascent phase.
About a week before launch, Mission Operations Director Gene Kranz called the Silver Team into the auditorium in Building 30. His speech wasn’t the “go team” speech that I’d expected. It was more of a warning and a blessing mixed into one. He reminded us that the space shuttle was the most complex vehicle ever designed by man. “Things break and fail,” he said bluntly. “But,” he added, “You won’t fail.” He said that each of us had been trained more thoroughly for this flight than any team in history. Our managers and the crew were counting on us to make the right calls at the right time. He said he trusted us and that we should in turn trust each other and trust our training. He left us with the sobering absolution that “If the mission fails, it won’t be because of something you did.”
We filed out of the auditorium quietly, each of us lost in thought. No one had ever flown such an unwieldy vehicle, an airplane with stubby little wings strapped to a giant tank with rockets bolted onto the sides. Did we really know what we were doing? Apparently, Mr. Kranz felt that we did, as much as anyone could in a test program. After all, if we knew everything about how this vehicle would fly, we wouldn’t need test flights. He’d expressed the ultimate confidence in us without any false pretenses. He’d sat in on all the long sims. He’d seen us wrestle with failures and find ways to work around them. He knew every one of us by name–had questioned us in briefings, in meetings, and seen us let off steam at social events. He trusted us to do everything humanly possible to prevent or mitigate the consequences of any failures.
Even though I was just a lowly Timeline 2, I felt an immense responsibility to justify Mr. Kranz’s confidence in me. This was no game or simulation. Two men I’d worked with for more than two years were going to eat steak and eggs for breakfast, suit up, and climb aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. The procedures I’d written for transitioning the computers, for opening the payload bay doors, for what to do if the FES or Freon loops, or the primary computers failed, were stowed onboard. My name was on the inside cover of those books. Though others had reviewed and approved them, I felt responsible for those procedures.
I was too keyed up to sleep the night before the launch, scheduled for 45 minutes after sunrise, Florida time, on Friday, April 10. …. READ MORE
Writing about Space
My next book, coauthored with Buzz Aldrin, To the Moon and Back: My Apollo 11 Adventure, a pop-up book from National Geographic and art by Bruce Foster, is available for order now from Amazon. Look for it in stores October 16.
My science fact article, "In Defense of the Planet," is in the Nove/Dec 2018 issue of Analog. Get your subscription now!
October 27, Saturday, 10-2. Free & Open to the Public: NASA Johnson Space Center Open House. Look for me and artist Bruce Foster signing copies of To the Moon and Back at the JSC Employees Exchange Store either at the tent by the Saturn V or in Building 3 cafeteria.
Thank you for letting me share my passion for space with you!