Launching by the Book
When NASA's Dawn spacecraft lifts off from Launch Pad 17-B at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Rosie Carver won't be sitting at a console in the control room. She won't even be in the same building. But her work will be.
Carver, who works for United Launch Alliance, leads the team that assembles the massive procedure books that dictate every step to be taken in processing and launching a Delta rocket, including the launch countdown. It's the importance of her job -- and the dedication and enthusiasm she brings to it -- that make her an unsung hero.
Image right: United Launch Alliance employee Rosie Carver visits Launch Complex 17 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Missions using Delta launch vehicles often begin from either of the complex's two launch pads. Photo credit: NASA
She estimates she's created at least 15,000 procedures for more than 300 missions since the Solar Maximum Mission, which launched Feb. 14, 1980. The documents cover all Delta vehicle processing work, from the time rocket parts are shipped to the launch site until after liftoff when the pad is clear.
Carver uses a specially designed computer program that numbers each step and task in these massive, complex procedure documents. The program also keeps track of photos, test equipment, items to be worked on or removed before flight, and other data. This tracking ability is critical to launch safety and success.
"If they find out they have a torque wrench that did not meet calibration, I have usage files that will tell me exactly which procedure and step used that torque wrench," Carver explains, adding that technicians can use that information to go back and repair or double-check previous work.
When the Delta team is notified that rocket parts for a new mission are on their way to the spaceport, Carver's work begins. The procedures vary according to the type of work and the vehicle's configuration (for example, many Delta II procedures will differ from the same procedures for a Delta IV).
The first draft of a procedure document is an oversized, coverless book called a "flimsy." The flimsies are passed to the vehicle engineers, who mark their changes and return the books to Carver, who works their updates into the final version -- a bound volume about the size of a textbook.
"They bleed all over it," Carver says good-naturedly, gesturing toward a book opened to a page filled with edits and additions in bright red ink. "They make changes like this. They've added steps. Because Dawn is a Heavy and we haven't done a Heavy in a while, there were a lot of updates that we needed to add to the procedures about things that have changed."
These are living documents. Whenever an issue or new solution pops up during the prelaunch process, it's added to the appropriate procedure, ensuring that the best practices are used on every mission.
Carver estimates she's created at least 15,000 procedures for more than 300 missions since the Solar Maximum Mission, which launched|
Feb. 14, 1980.
Carver produces about a hundred procedure books for each mission. Each procedure is made up of multiple tasks, which in turn consist of page after page of steps -- sometimes 400 pages or more.
These aren't small books.
"I had one (procedure) that was stacked in my room that was three books this high," she remembers, holding her hand 18 inches above the desktop.
Since the books need to be ready to use the moment they're needed, sometimes Carver and her co-workers only have a week or so to pull the documents together. That sounds challenging enough, but consider this: Carver is currently working on six upcoming missions.
On launch day, Carver is typically in her office, hard at work on documents for another mission. But her work is clearly visible: She creates the complex, scripted countdown procedure used by every launch controller. She knows her procedures are critically important -- and that NASA and other launch customers are watching.
"I want the customer to see that our procedures are professional and our work is professional, and that we're going to give them the best ride anybody can give them, so that they come back," she says with pride.
Image right: Rosie Carver displays two examples of launch procedure documents. On the left is a textbook-sized final version of an Apollo document; on the right is a "flimsy" to be used for the Dawn mission. Photo credit: NASA
Carver was hired and trained as a keypunch operator in 1965, just after graduating from high school. Before computers were the mainstays of technology, keypunch machines and readers were used to produce launch procedures, timecards and other documents. Over the years, she worked for The Boeing Company and McDonnell-Douglas. She's been with the Delta launch program since 1970.
After years of serving in various administrative support roles, she was hired to start producing the Delta launch procedure documents. Her boss's advice -- that the most important part of her job was ensuring that all procedures stayed consistent -- still guides her today.
"He said, 'I don't want you letting the engineers go off and reinvent the wheel,' " Carver recalls. "And I said, 'Okay!' "
Carver becomes especially animated when asked what she likes best about her job.
"Getting to be part of history," she answers. "And the people. I love the people out here. This is a great team; I've been very lucky. Not everyone gets to love their job as much as I do!"
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center