In Memorium

In the rooms where I spent so much of three decades running space missions, there were a large number of mission plaques hanging on the walls. Tradition dictated that during a mission, the crew plaque was hung by the entrance door to remind everyone who entered MCC of the men and women in the spacecraft that they were controlling. When the mission was successfully completed, someone from the ground team that had made a significant contribution to its success, the “MVP” if you will, was asked to take the plaque from the door and climb an old, rickety ladder (which was later replaced by an OSHA approved ladder) and hang the plaque in its final place of honor. Each of the various “front rooms” in MCC has, therefore a different collection of plaques, representing the missions that were flown from that room.

There is an exception, however. Near the door of every flight control room are three plaques that are still there because their missions were not completed. They are there in memory of the crews we lost – the Apollo 1 crew during a pad test, the crew of the Challenger (STS-51L) lost on ascent, and the crew of Columbia (STS-107) lost on entry. Their plaques remain by the doors to remind everyone that works in those rooms of the significant risks taken by the men and women who climb into spacecraft for flight, and the ultimate consequences of mistakes, errors, or poor decisions.

I was recently unpacking some boxes that came with me from my days in MCC, and found my own copies of the three plaques. I wasted little time in placing them by the “door” (in this case the big hangar door) of my own shop – the place where I spend so much of my time working at this time in my life. I like to remind myself that whether you are flying in space, or simply in the air, mistakes and bad decisions can never be tolerated.