The people who designed, tested and supported the Space Shuttle Flight Software were the most exceptional technical team I’ve encountered.
The maiden voyage of Space Shuttle Discovery was scheduled for June 25, 1984. The first-ever main engine shutdown launch abort scared the crap out of us.
Our Shuttle flight software team had the “distinction” of hearing Walter Cronkite describe, live and on national television, whether we’d done our work correctly.
I had visions of the Space Shuttle Enterprise getting jostled during separation and colliding with the 747’s vertical stabilizer – which would definitely make for a bad day all around.
NASA’s John Aaron set high standards for IBM, and Space Shuttle onboard software came closer to “error-free” than any large, complex software ever built.
I met with John Aaron to explain why IBM couldn’t fulfill a Shuttle software contract that required zero errors. His answer changed my mind.
NASA required IBM’s Space Shuttle software to be delivered “error-free”. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the likelihood of that was extremely low.
The first version of the Shuttle flight software had two serious problems: it couldn’t fit in the computer, and it ran way too slow. IBM was two years into the contract and basically nothing worked. All hell broke loose.
Hearing about the near-legendary competence of NASA astronauts was one thing, seeing it in action was humbling. Bob Crippen and Dick Truly, the two I got to work with on Space Shuttle, were the most impressive professionals I’ve met.
During high speed atmospheric flight, the extreme forces buffeting the Space Shuttle produced abrupt, violent oscillations that, left unattended, would cause it to spiral out of control. No human was capable of flying the Shuttle unassisted.