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NASA MOD Internal Memo to Space Shuttle and ISS Programs - Subject: Vigilance

Status Report From: Johnson Space Center
Posted: Saturday, March 19, 2005

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National Aeronautics and
Space Administration
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
2101 NASA Road 1
Houston, Texas 77058-3696


March 15, 2005

Reply to Attn of: DA8-05-063

TO: MA/Space Shuttle Program, OA/International Space Station Program

FROM: DA/Mission Operations Directorate

SUBJECT: Vigilance

Much has been made in the days following the tragedy of February 1, 2003, of the role that "culture" played in the events leading up to that day. Here now, two years on, we have all had time to reflect on our own personal involvement, whether as an individual, member of a discipline team, a directorate, or an agency.

Sadly, we were not the first to face such self scrutiny. Gene Kranz recalled the response of a previous generation to a similar tragedy:

So this was sort of the news of the day, and it then came time for me to speak. I tend to be maybe one of the more emotional of the controllers. I believed that that's part of a leader's responsibility, to get his people pumped up, and I gave what my controllers came to know as the "tough and competent" speech, and concluded the talk identifying that the problem throughout all of our preparation for Apollo 1 was the fact that we were not tough enough; we were avoiding our responsibilities, we had not assumed the accountability we should have for what was going on during that day's test. We had the opportunity to call it all off, to say, "This isn't right. Let's shut it down," and none of us did. So basically the toughness was from that day forward we would stand for doing everything right, literally being perfect and competent.

We had become very complacent about working in a pure oxygen environment. We all knew this was dangerous. Many of us who flew aircraft knew it was extremely dangerous, but we had sort of stopped learning. We had just really taken it for granted that this was the environment, and since we had flown the Mercury and Gemini program at this 100 percent oxygen environment, everything was okay. And it wasn't. And we had let the crew literally paper the inside of the spacecraft with Velcro . . .

I had each member of the control team on the blackboards in their offices write "tough and competent" at the top of that blackboard, and that could never be erased until we had gotten a man on the Moon. I believe that set the framework for our work in the weeks and months that followed.

It's amazing how NASA took charge of itself in those days.

At the conclusion of the last Apollo flight, Gene asked artist Bob McCall to fashion an emblem commemorating the spirit of tireless vigilance that defined 'Mission Control' in that era. As he later described it…

'We fought and won the race in space and listened to the cries of the Apollo 1 crew. With great resolve and personal anger, we picked up the pieces, pounded them together, and went on the attack again. We were the ones in the trenches of space and with only the tools of leadership, trust, and teamwork, we contained the risks and made the conquest of space possible.'

The entire MOD team wants the Space Shuttle and Space Station Program families to know that we still aspire to the same ideal today. The unique challenge of the Space Shuttle and ISS programs has been in the long timescales through which we must maintain that vigilance.

To embrace that commitment and keep it strong, we have adopted 'vigilance' as a key fundamental quality essential to our professional excellence. Our 'vigilance' will be focused always on remaining attentive to the dangers of spaceflight, while never accepting success as a substitute for rigor in everything we do. It is joined by the other virtues that we aspire to in our work – Discipline, Competence, Confidence, Responsibility, Toughness, and Teamwork – virtues drawn from our flight control heritage.

While the blackboards are long gone, in their place we have incorporated a living memorial into the MOD emblem as a constant reminder of the 17 who have given their lives to the pursuit of the frontier. Seventeen stars now grace the background of space on the patch to help keep in the forefront of our minds the risks we are managing daily.

It is our solemn pledge to each of you that we are committed to the safety and success of our human spaceflight programs as we return the Space Shuttle to flight status and complete assembly of the International Space Station. That commitment will not wane with the passage of time and achievement.

Signed,


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Director, Mission Operations	Deputy Director, Mission Operations 
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