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Re: The hard questions..

I can't think of a single major space mission that has not been affected by an
operational error. Last year the Hubble Space Telescope spent 24 hours in an
emergency shutdown mode because of a command error by a member of the Flight
Ops Team. I suppose one could argue that the person or person(s) responsible
for the mistake should have been fired, but in 45 years of experience NASA has
shown that it is better to conduct anomaly investigations in a professional
and courteous manner without trying to assign blame or dole out punishment but
simply to understand what went wrong and how we might prevent it from
happening in the future. This leads to honest and frank discussions without
the posturing, CYA'ing, coverups and outright lying that might be expected
when people are in fear of losing their job. 

I suggest that Amsat (and that includes the readers of amsat-bb) should adopt
the same philosophy in conducting any failure analysis in connection with
AO-40 or any other Amsat project. Amsat does not employ anyone to operate our
satellites as a full time job, which makes these people even more precious and
difficult to replace. They do in their "spare time" what I get paid to do as a
full time job. Operating a satellite is very much like being the parent of
newborn baby, you are 100% responsible for its welfare 24 hours a day and you
should have no expectation of ever getting a vacation or a full night of

Please note that nothing I say here should be construed as any assumption that
the current AO-40 anomaly was in fact caused by any operational error by any
command station.

Space is still a dangerous business. Before AO-40 was launched we were
wondering what we would do if it were punted into the Atlantic Ocean by the
launch vehicle. We were willing to take a ride that nobody else wanted because
it was the only way to get the bird into space for a price we could pay. I am
certainly not happy that we only got three years out of her, but if it turns
out that she is in fact lost, we have more important things to do than whine
about it.

For the next satellite, we need to employ another NASA technique, and have
mandatory and formal design review by outsiders not intimately connected to
the project. Independent review can spot many problems that are invisible to
the people who work day to day on the project. I recently spent several weeks
trying to debug some code that I wrote, until I got someone else to look at it
and they discovered that one line of code had been left out, I failed to see
it but someone else spotted it.

Dan Schultz N8FGV
Amsat Member #9069

Sent via amsat-bb@amsat.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.
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