In September I had the privilege to attend a lecture at Duke University given by Dr Ehsan Samei, who last week had the unusual experience of watching his work get launched into space.
One of my daughters is a space enthusiast, and so we pay close attention to anything that NASA is doing, and last week NASA launched the Artemis I mission towards the moon. The goal of this mission is to lay the ground work for future human expeditions to the moon (no-one has been there since Apollo 17 in 1972) – by testing the latest equipment. The spacecraft Orion will travel 280,000 miles from Earth, which is the farthest any “human-rated” spacecraft has ever traveled.
As NASA considers sending people into space again (beyond the Earth’s orbit), potentially for much longer than ever before, one of the key concerns is how exposure to solar radiation for long periods will impact human bodies.
Enter the Moonikins
Dr Samei is part of a team of researchers that created two dummies, nicknamed moonikins, that are designed to closely replicate human bodies. These moonikins are covered in a bunch of sensors so that scientists can get a clear picture of the impact of a future moon mission on astronauts – including female astronauts.
Once the moonikins return to earth, researchers will then be able to better understand the impact of space travel on our bodies, and use that information to enhance the space suits to better protect astronauts for future missions.
Be like NASA – test everything!
One thing I love about NASA is how rigorous and methodical they are. While the story of Apollo 13 is super exciting – jury-rigging solutions to problems in a life-and-death situation – that’s not how NASA generally operates.
The goal of the Artemis missions is to send people back to the moon, but they’re taking baby steps. They’re testing everything. They’re sending moonikins to simulate people. They’ll be looking at a bajillion sensors and then reviewing that data. They’ll be making improvements. And once they’re ready, once they’re sure everything’s going to work, they’ll send astronauts back to the moon.
For those of us working on voice networks, we can learn a lot from NASA. Voice networks are a critical piece of communications infrastructure, and we’re expected to provide at least five-nines reliability. That means we need to take our responsibilities seriously.
If you need to make a significant change to your network, it’s imperative that you have a MOP (a method of procedure), so there’s no doubt about exactly how to make the change. But it’s not enough for the MOP to explain the procedure – you also need to include steps for testing, so you can know whether the procedure was successful.
We’d generally recommend the MOP for any significant maintenance activity follows the pattern below:
- Execute the test plan before you start – to give a baseline
- Execute the procedure
- Review logs and alarms
- Execute the test plan again – and make sure that your changes worked and that nothing broke
- If things don’t go according to plan, make sure you also have backout procedure – so you know how to undo your changes. And of course, that you test again after backing out.
The precise details of the testing will vary depending on what you’re changing, but the main point is that you need to have an attitude of caution. Your job is to make sure nothing goes wrong – so be like NASA: prepare carefully, test well, and have a plan B… just in case.