Earlier this week a training class called “Principles of Success in Spaceflight” was on my calendar. I had signed up for it months ago and honestly, I couldn’t remember why. And after having to stay home on Monday with Charlotte (who had a fever and sniffles), I considered backing out of the class to spend the day catching up at my desk. But I didn’t and as soon as I arrived, I remembered why I’d signed up — because the instructor was Andy Chaikin!
Now let’s pause for a moment and back up 20+ years to when I was a high school sophomore. I’ve written before about my path to NASA but for the purposes of this story, all you need to know is that unlike many, I was NOT one of those kids who loved space from the time they were tiny. My interest in space exploration didn’t really take off until high school…but when it did, the space bug bit me HARD. I devoured book after book after book about NASA and space, and quite a few of those were about the Apollo program that took us to the moon.
Of everything that I read, one that has always stuck with me was a thick, weighty tome called “A Man on the Moon” that was chock full of detail about the Apollo missions. It was well written and thoroughly researched and was absolutely fascinating to a teenager in the throes of a space exploration obsession.
The author? Yep. Andy Chaikin.
On Tuesday he led our group through a great day-long class focused on the factors that have historically led to success and failure in the U.S. space program, with in-depth discussions of the Apollo 1 fire and the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle accidents. I know the history of each of these failures very well, and yet he still mentioned things I hadn’t heard about, or factors I hadn’t considered. It’s the kind of class that really should be required training for every person working at NASA, and not just once but on a recurring basis. It’s too easy to forget about how little things can stack up to be a big thing, and to let schedule and cost and other factors compromise safety.
I’ve never forgotten his name as the author of my favorite of the space books I read in high school, and I had signed up for the training class based on that alone. During our lunch break, I was able to run home and grab my 20+ year old book off the shelf — and he signed it for me!
My 16-year-old self is totally geeking out.
p.s. I’m doing a 31 day blog writing challenge!