17 February 2024

Antares: Innovation from Country Roads to Cislunar...

It was early February 1971 and three High School best friends consistently car pooled to do a little early morning “Country Roading”, in the white Pontiac LeMans on the way to school.

This was just a circuitous route down tree lined roads and around vast farm lands in the Midwest USA.

We were always set to arrive in the school parking lot, just in time to make it to our locker and then to 1st period before the bell rang.

Our dialogue on Capital Avenue SW and West on Beckley Road, quickly turned to the prescience of the Apollo 14 Antares Lunar Lander and it’s planned descent to the Moon in a few days time on February 4th.

Country roading this early morning gave us guys a chance to catch-up, then map and sketch out where we would rendezvous to watch together the Apollo 14 coverage of Commander Alan Shepard, Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa and Lunar Module Pilot Ed Mitchell.

Before we as young teenage students ever knew what true innovation was really all about, we were about to see and read about it in the national news.

And little did we anticipate that when you encounter the “ABORT” signal, you sometimes have to just improvise. Test. Improvise. Test.

“After separating from the command module in lunar orbit, the LM Antares had two serious problems. First, the LM computer began getting an ABORT signal from a faulty switch. NASA believed the computer might be getting erroneous readings like this if a tiny ball of solder had shaken loose and was floating between the switch and the contact, closing the circuit. The immediate solution – tapping on the panel next to the switch – did work briefly, but the circuit soon closed again.”

Software engineering and Software Quality Assurance (SQA) is a continuous cycle of development, testing, errors, changes, testing and deployment. The software teams at MIT knew this first hand.

“A second problem occurred during the powered descent, when the LM landing radar failed to lock automatically onto the Moon's surface, depriving the navigation computer of vital information on the vehicle's altitude and vertical descent speed. After the astronauts cycled the landing radar breaker, the unit successfully acquired a signal near 22,000 feet (6,700 m). Mission rules required an abort if the landing radar was out at 10,000 feet (3,000 m), though Shepard might have tried to land without it. With the landing radar, Shepard steered the LM to a landing which was the closest to the intended target of the six missions that landed on the Moon.”

As our United States continues our next generation of the commercial race to the Moon, we can only anticipate future “ABORT” signals. Prototypes. Testing. Innovation.

After so many years working in global places where Software Quality Assurance was mission critical, you finally will learn as a professional, that it is never finished. It is never perfect.

So what?

Our USA will always be a leader because we have already been there, with humans actually operating on the Moon.

We know what will be challenging and why a hypothesis might end up being changed and adapted.

As our next human race to the Moon continues and our cislunar challenges are encountered, we know that we must continuously improve and innovate.

The same strategy shall also work here for you today on Earth, in your own small town…around your own dinner table each night…


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