Alan J. Porter (gothamajp) wrote,
Alan J. Porter

Tough and Competent

For reasons that I hope will become apparent at some point in the not too distant future, I've been doing a lot of reading recently about the history of space exploration.

My good friend budgie_uk posted this today and I just had to repost it..

On 27th January 1967, three astronauts - Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee - died when pure oxygen in the capsule of what would have been Apollo 1 ignited.

On the following Monday, flight director Eugene Kranz (the bloke portrayed by Ed Harris in the movie Apollo 13) called a meeting of his branch and flight control team. During that meeting , he said the following, what became known in NASA as The Kranz Dictum:

"Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, 'Dammit, stop!'

I don't know what Thompson's committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause!

We were not ready! We did not do our job.

We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did. From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: 'Tough' and 'Competent.'

Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for.

Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect.

When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write 'Tough and Competent' on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control."


A few weekends ago I was at the Space Museum an Hall of Fame in New Mexico and got chatting to a somewhat aged museum volunteer, who casually mentioned he had been a friend of Gus Grissom's. I asked him what his memories of Grissom were and he answered in a single sentence - "Best damned engineer I ever knew." Then he paused and drooped his head slightly in silent remembrance.

Nothing more needed to be said.
Tags: space
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