NASA Internal Memo: Message from the Administrator

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Monday, November 19, 2007


Point of Contact: David Mould, Office of Public Affairs

Thanksgiving Message from the Administrator: Thanksgiving, NASA Style

I don't like spamming you with messages from NASA HQ; my own Inbox stays quite full, and I know yours does too. But I thought the story below, relayed to me from John Chapman, Shuttle External Tank Program Manager at NASA-MSFC, was worth passing on. It seems that quite a few of the most senior and experienced production sprayers and others at our Michoud Assembly Facility have been volunteering to work second and third shift, so that they could obtain unrestricted access to critical-path work areas. They did not just agree to come on a few occasions when asked to do so by management, but have been requesting that they be allowed to work up to twelve-hour shifts all through the night. In Chap's words,

"It was awesome. We walked out of the control room and into the large manufacturing bay of MAF Building 420 at about 9:30 last night. ET-126 was a beehive of activity... One team was removing access platforms and protective covers from the intertank as it was getting its final close-out inspection and video documentation. At the aft end of the tank, two men were putting the final machining touches on the BX spray they did the preceding evening to close out the manhole cover. This was the second run at this in the last several days by these guys, who are our top sprayers. The first time there was one plug-pull value that was on the low end. Good enough is not good enough in this area of highest heating from the engine plumes, so it was stripped and re-sprayed to perfection. It is also very noteworthy that both these guys knew about the series of small frost balls we had in this area during the last countdown and were taking steps to ensure all their knit lines between passes were absolutely perfect. This is feedback to the production floor at its best.

Over on the -Y longeron, the final touches were being made to the foam with a cylindrical hand-sanding tool to home in on the shape required by the drawing. Sand a bit, vacuum the dust, check the curve... sand a bit, vacuum the dust, check the curve ... The look on that tech's face spoke volumes as he was making the finished part materialize out of this chunk of foam: Michaelangelo could not have taken more pride in his work.

Large areas of the tank are "roped off" where access is prohibited. The detailed final inspection shakedown has already been completed in these places. The bottom line... "Ready to Ship" on 11/21 looks very achievable now. Why??? Because so many of our top team members have volunteered, on their own without management pressure, to come in and work on the back shifts when they can get unfettered access to the tank to work their magic. I spoke with more than a dozen of them last night. Their pride in being able to contribute their skills to the American Space Program shows in their every move. This is an incredible team down here, truly a national treasure."

There are stories here, parables for our time and our business. Here is a team that is not only willing, but eager, to work overtime to fly on schedule. But not only do they want to fly on schedule, they want to fly well. They come in on their off-shifts so that they can have unfettered access to the tank, and the freedom to do their best work. They know what their best work looks like, and they have a passion that each tank will be nothing less. They do not just follow instructions blindly; they know why their work has to be the best, because they follow the flight history; they know how their product performs. And finally, when they have a product that is good but not the best, they have the guts to start over. Last week, they did not like a spray they had done on the tank, so they removed the foam and re-sprayed. They know schedule is critical, but they also know the right thing to do.

How many of us could take a lesson from these folks at MAF and apply it to our own work? Whether we do research, generate spreadsheets, solve equations, interpret the law, write code, do accounting, lay out wiring harnesses, calculate orbits, design structural elements, or whatever it is that we do, how many of us show the dedication to our work, without fanfare or expectation, that is demonstrated by this workforce at Michoud, technicians who spray and shape the foam on our shuttle external tanks?

Some of these folks are still living in FEMA trailers, and many cannot rebuild their old homes in an area still devastated two years after Katrina. They are making these personal sacrifices in the midst of lives that are still in turmoil. Yet they keep doing what they do so well. It is incomprehensible and wonderful at the same time.

This is our workforce -- in this case our contractor workforce -- at its very best. This is what makes me proud to be at NASA. The conquest of air and space, the pursuit of scientific discovery in space, is the toughest business in the world. It is unforgiving of the most minor errors, but, when we do it right, it is the most exhilarating business there is. It needs the best people that our nation has to offer. Fortunately, we have them.

At this time of the year, it is for this that I give thanks.

Michael D. Griffin
NASA Administrator

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