Tom Henricks flew four NASA Space Shuttle missions, 2 as commander and 2 as the pilot. He has also served as an F-15 test pilot and F-4 fighter pilot. Tom joined the McGraw-Hill Companies in 2006 and is now president of Aviation Week.View Profile All Speaker's Videos
Tom starts by showing us a short video of how some of the final checks are conducted prior to launch of the space shuttle.
He describes how there are 2.5 million parts in the shuttle which need to be in perfect working order. In addition to checking the parts and equipment there also needs to be global weather briefing, the astronauts need to be suited up and given a final medical check. The final briefing is built into the countdown checklist which starts 2.5 hours before lift-off. Crew members must also monitor each other and try to stay awake throughout this which is sometimes difficult as they are lying down!. Any non-astronaut helpers must also evacuate the area to a safe distance at least 3 miles away. 15 minutes before lift-off every decision maker (of which there are thousands) is polled to say it is safe for lift off from their perspective. The last of these people to give clearance is the crew commander. Each mission takes a total amount of 2 years training for everyone involved.
Tom then discusses his thoughts on safety and says that whilst checklists are vital to ensure no omissions that you cannot just have the mindset of a checklist follower as you may be required to adapt to a situation. He also believes that checklists and briefing need to be an essential component of the safety culture of the organization. Not every contingency can be covered in a briefing but you need to be able to cover every contingency in real life if it fails. Astronauts need to be psychologically and spiritually as well as physically prepared. Most importantly maintaining a cool, professional decision making ability – helped by a checklist to avoid errors of omission will lead everyone to a place of confidence that preparation is complete. It is also vital to continually upgrade checklists that are used.