As is usually the case, CD-adapco’s annual STAR Global Conference aims to teach much more than one human can absorb in a few days. I usually walk away with my brain spinning, but energized and excited by the potential of CD-adapco’s solutions to help explain the world around us.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, my photo with Mr. Gene Kranz himself:

MAS with Gene Kranz

Mr. Kranz was the conference’s keynote speaker and set a theme that the other speakers lived up to: failure is not an option, leadership is everything, someone has to make the hard choices, and engineers and scientist ROCK (my emphasis). Mr. Kranz was NASA Flight Director during many Gemini and Apollo missions at Kennedy Space Center, but is probably best known for leading efforts to bring Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise home safely after an explosion basically crippled their mission to the moon in 1970. Mr. Kranz tells the riveting story of the space race and how the team hoped that Apollo 13 would be uneventful because 11 (the MOON landing) and 12 (power loss) had been so stressful but we now know that was not to be. One disaster after another, solved by the engineers and scientists at NASA and its commercial partners, and eventually leading to a safe splashdown. It doesn’t get much better.

That said, Apollo 13 shouldn’t eclipse Mr. Kranz’s other achievements.  The culture he helped build at NASA and his leadership in re-dedicating the agency to lunar missions after the tragedy of Apollo 1 would be enough to seal his legacy. His apparently absolute belief in himself and his team (average age at Apollo 11: 26!) to do their jobs, bring up concerns and then drive to a common solution mean we could all do a lot worse than emulating his leadership style.

Fun fact: the famous white vest was made by his wife. It’s white not to make a fashion statement, but because Mr. Kranz led the white Mission Control team. The other teams were, not surprisingly, red and blue. He normally wore a more exuberant vest at a mission’s end, but Apollo 13 was so stressful ’til the last second that he kept the white vest.

How could other speakers top Mr. Kranz? They didn’t even try, but many acknowledged how important the space program was in cementing their interest in science, technology, engineering and math — and how, after hearing Mr. Kranz’s thoughts on leadership, they are still learning from the program. Their presentations often focused on tough problems, solved by tenacity. Perhaps not as dramatic as Apollo 13, but important in their own rights.

I’ll post soon about the rest of STAR Global Conference. Major new trend observed here: simulation isn’t the end goal. The point of any simulation is to make clear what happens during an event such as cycling in batteries or smoke dispersion in a train station so that a decision can be made. Do we use different material in the battery or install a new ventilation system in the station? In the past, presentations often focused on the elegance of the simulation — this year, the focus was more on explaining the observations to others. Since the vast majority of the world doesn’t “speak CAE”, this is an important step in getting simulation out to more types of users and problems.

Finally, I have no idea how CD-adapco arranged it, but there was a rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center during the closing reception. Imagine dozens of us, using our cell phone compasses to figure out where to look. I’m sure we were amusing or annoying, depending on whether you were looking down from the hotel or trying to drive through the parking lot. We were in Lake Buena Vista, so all we saw was a plume — but we got to see a rocket launch. Happy jig.

Very exciting week for a space geek. More soon.

Note: CD-adapco graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation at the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.

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