From the CEO: Turning Seven Minutes of Terror into Success

AME | February 19, 2021


“Working remotely” took on a whole new meaning when NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars yesterday. Every time NASA has landed a rover on Mars it has been a tremendous feat of ingenuity and engineering, and the current mission upped the ante even further.

As you might know, Perseverance is larger than past rovers and its mission is to explore more treacherous terrain while looking for signs of life. While the mission is more complex, the technology has also advanced. For the entry, descent and landing phase — what NASA and Jet Propulsion Lab scientists refer to as the “seven minutes of terror” in part because only about 40% of Mars landings have been successful — Perseverance used new Terrain-Relative Navigation technology to take images of the Mars surface and help it land safely.

The use of new technology, the distance between Mars and Mission Control, and the mission’s uncertainty are parallels for our work here on Earth. Even before some of us began working remotely last March, many of our organizations had facilities spread across the continent or globe. But like with Perseverance, we’ve been able to use technology to bridge geography and connect with our coworkers wherever they might be. In fact, just like NASA’s Terrain-Relative Navigation system, technology has enabled us to see exactly what others see as they work through a process at the gemba. With AI, AR, GoPros and even Zoom, we’re able to see what they see and help make continuous improvements that lead to better processes and outcomes.

While we still have uncertainties about the future, the fact that members of our community can connect with each other from wherever they work means that we can overcome a lot of what might come our way.

What’s more, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that it is people who make the difference in any organization. Just like the team behind Perseverance, your team is essential to finding lean ways to use new technologies and tried-and-true processes. It always comes down to having the right people in the right roles and empowering them to do their job effectively.

Perhaps the best lesson to take from the Mars Exploration Program is around the success rate. As I mentioned, the success rate is about 40%, but every single U.S. mission to Mars has been successful this century. Early failures — and the lessons that failure and experimentation bring — have paid off with a run of success that stretches back more than 20 years!

For AME, after initial experimentation with virtual events, we’ve been offering an increasing array of virtual events including training and tours. Driven largely by AME Consortia, our recent tours have been highly successful showcases of the tools, technology and teamwork that I described above. Meanwhile, we’ll soon announce a brand-new operational excellence summit — the first of several planned 2021 AME summits. Keep an eye on your email and AME’s LinkedIn and Twitter accounts for more details of all these exciting offerings.

As always, please stay safe and keep looking out for one another.


P.S. The 37th annual AME International Conference presale is going on now. The conference committee continues to lock in soon-to-be-announced keynotes, tours, presenters and workshops. If you’re interested in joining the conference lineup, please submit a proposal before it’s too late!