By Jennifer Muntz, NSS Membership Coordinator,
and Burt Dicht, NSS Managing Director of Membership
Ensuring the safety and success of human spaceflight missions is crucial for advancing space exploration. Retired NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson emphasized this during a recent event at the Center for Space Education at the Kennedy Space Center, where the National Space Society (NSS) and the Astronauts Memorial Foundation (AMF) collaborated for the second Space Launcheon Series. The event drew a diverse audience, including industry professionals, space experts and enthusiasts to hear Ferguson’s insights.
As a veteran of three missions, including commanding STS-135, the final space shuttle flight, Ferguson discussed “How Big Systems Fail, and Why That Can’t Happen in Human Spaceflight.” He drew parallels between historical failures in large systems and potential challenges in space exploration, emphasizing the non-negotiable nature of success in human spaceflight.
Ferguson’s talk underscored the importance of diligence, precision and effective communication in space projects, highlighting that failure can have far reaching consequences. Using examples such as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, he illustrated how unintended consequences can extend beyond the failure itself—afterwards, regulation significantly increased and the national perception and sentiment for nuclear power turned negative. This still resonates today with a long-term effect on U.S. power generation system.
For example, China has brought into service 42 new reactors since 2011 and the U.S. has taken 12 offline. Today’s next generation reactors are safer and more efficient than ever before, but in the U.S. nuclear power plants are still a non-starter. For that reason, it is key that those involved in human space exploration need to pay attention to the past to understand why critical systems fail in order to avoid such failures in the future.
The event was opened by NSS member and Florida Chapter President Hannah Rens, a systems engineer at Boeing. She provided a snapshot on NSS member benefits and inspired others to get involved. AMF Executive Director Thad Altman then welcomed the attendees and talked about the Foundation. Finally, NSS CEO Anita Gale, a long-time friend and Boeing colleague of Chris Ferguson, added a personal touch by sharing entertaining stories while introducing him. Prior to the presentation, Ferguson also had a chance to visit the new NSS office located in the Center for Space Education at Kennedy Space Center.
The Space Launcheon Series, featuring key space leaders, will continue with the next event scheduled for January 19, 2024. Retired astronaut Dr. Tom Jones, a veteran of four space shuttle missions and known for his engaging storytelling, will be the featured speaker. More details and registration information will be provided soon.