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Apollo Engineers See Pride, Effort As Keys To Constellation Program Success

By | July 23, 2007

      A group of former Northrop Corp. engineers who worked on the Apollo moon landing program said exhaustive testing of failure causes, multiple redundancies in systems, and a driven desire to succeed based on national pride are keys to any U.S. plan to journey away from Earth again.

      The Apollo program veterans Friday met with leaders of the next American moon-shot program, the Constellation Program that will use an Orion crew exploration vehicle lofted to space by an Ares rocket lifter.

      The former Apollo program workers shared their insights with the media and public in an auditorium at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

      These were a few of their key points:

      • Having the public able to watch the moon program astronauts and space vehicles live brought the public in, bringing immense backing and support for NASA and its Apollo program.

      • The pressure to succeed was immense, a manifestation of “the old American spirit” in which the United States proved itself to be the leader of the world.

      • Perhaps if China announces details of plans to go to the moon by 2012, that will bring back the U.S. competitive spirit.

      • Having missions going up in space is critical to a successful space program. But NASA will retire space shuttles in 2010, and the Orion-Ares system won’t fly until 2015, leaving a half-decade gap in which NASA won’t even be able to fly any of its astronauts to low Earth orbit.

      • In the last gap in the space program, before the space shuttles began flying in the early 1980s, “we lost a lot of engineers and scientists.” During times with no space missions, “people do lose interest” and drift away from the space sector.

      • Aside from space missions, another means of generating public support is to show the public all the immense benefits they reap from the space program, including products they use every day.

      • Getting young people to take difficult math and engineering courses needed for any space program is a tough challenge, given that engineers aren’t extremely highly paid.

      • It is imperative that both NASA staffers and contractor personnel must work together as a unified group, not as adversaries. “We were one team,” an engineer recalled. But currently, “I’m not so sure I see the unified grouping” between industry and NASA. “If there is a ‘we’ and a ‘they,’ you’re going to have a very difficult time succeeding.”

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