The International Space Station (ISS) has been in existence since 1969 in some form or the other.  A very quick history of its humble beginnings is given below.  Also, given below is a hyperlink to an absolutely fascinating UTUBE video of the existing ISS and various components of the internal workings of the station.  I do not know what I expected, but the facility is a marvelous combination of hardware, software and electronics.  I suppose when I thought of the ISS, I had in mind the deck of the Starship Enterprise.  Not even close—much more impressive.

A condensed version of the time line is given below but please go to the NASA website to get the extended chronology of the ISS.

  • On January 24, 1984, President Ronald Reagan commissioned NASA to build the international space station and to do so within the next 10 years.
  • On November 20, 1998 the first segment of the ISS launches: a Russian proton rocket named Zarya (“sunrise”).
  • On December 4, 1998, Unity, the first U.S.-built component of the International Space Station launches—the first Space Shuttle mission dedicated to assembly of the station.
  • The first crew to reside on the station was on November 2, 2000.  Astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev become the first crew to reside onboard the station, staying several months.
  • U.S. Lab Module was Added February 7, 2001.  Destiny, the U.S. Laboratory module, becomes part of the station. Destiny continues to be the primary research laboratory for U.S. payloads.
  • The European Lab Joined the ISS February 7, 2008. The European Space Agency’s Columbus Laboratory becomes part of the station.
  • On March 11, 2008 the Japanese Lab joined the ISS.  The first Japanese Kibo laboratory module becomes part of the station.
  •  

HISTORY:

The International Space Station (ISS) took ten (10) years and more than thirty (30) missions to assemble. It is the result of unprecedented scientific and engineering collaboration among five space agencies representing fifteen (15) countries. The space station is approximately the size of a football field: a four hundred and sixty (460)-ton, permanently crewed platform orbiting two hundred and fifty (250) miles above Earth. It is about four times as large as the Russian space station Mir and five times as large as the U.S. Skylab.

The idea of a space station was once science fiction, existing only in the imagination until it became clear in the 1940s that construction of such a structure might be attainable by our nation. As the Space Age began in the 1950s, designs of “space planes” and stations dominated popular media. The first rudimentary station was created in 1969 by the linking of two Russian Soyuz vehicles in space, followed by other stations and developments in space technology until construction began on the ISS in 1998, aided by the first reusable spacecraft ever developed: the American shuttles.

Until recently, U.S. research space onboard the ISS had been reserved for mostly government initiatives, but new opportunities for commercial and academic use of the ISS are now available, facilitated by the ISS National Lab.

There is no way I can provide a better description of the ISS than the video I hope you will look at.  That hyperlink is given as follows:  Hope you enjoy it.

HOW IT WORKS: The International Space Station

BOEING 737 MAX

May 11, 2019


The five points given below were taken from an excellent article written by Jacob Beningo and appeared in “Electronics & Test Aerospace”, May 2, 2019.  I have added my own comment relative to those five (5) points.  It appears, from what we know now, there were no mechanical failures causing both aircraft to crash.  The real failures were lack of training and possibly embedded electronic systems effecting on-board systems. 

Recently the news headlines have been dominated by two crashes involving Boeing’s new 737 MAX aircraft. Both of these tragedies occurred under similar circumstances and within six months of each other. The fallout from these disasters may only be starting as aircraft around the world have been grounded, production of the 737 MAX has been decreased and March sales of the aircraft dropped to zero. The damage to Boeing’s reputation as a safety leader has now also come into question as investigations have been opened into how the system at the center of the investigations, MCAS, was developed and certified.

The investigations into the sequence of events that led to the loss of these aircraft with resulting causes will take time to fully discover—maybe even years but certainly months. However, with the information that has currently been released, embedded systems companies and developers can look at the fiasco Boeing is currently going through and learn and be reminded of several general lessons that they can apply to their own industries and products.

Lesson #1 – Don’t compromise your product to save or make money short-term

There is normal pressure on businesses and developers today to increase revenue, reduce costs and ship products as fast as possible. The result is not always quality. It isn’t security. It isn’t user friendly. The objective is maximum short-term growth at any cost as long as the short-term growth is maximized.  The company needed to remain in good standing with Wall Street and their investors.  That seems to be the bottom line.  Boeing appeared to be under significant pressure from customers and shareholders to deliver an aircraft that could compete with the Airbus A319neo.  They may have started to cave to this normative pressure.

Lesson #2 – Identify and mitigate single points of failure

Boeing and the FAA are looking at embedded systems in trying to discover the root cause of both failures and how corrections may be made to eliminate future tragedies.  In any embedded system that is being developed, it’s important to understand the potential failure modes and what effect those failures will have on the system and how they can be mitigated. There are many ways that teams go about doing this, including performing a Design Failure & Effects Analysis (DFMEA) which analyzes design functions, failure modes and their effect on the customer or user. Once such an analysis is done, we can then determine how we can mitigate the effect of a failure.  This is common practice for systems and subsystems of any complexity.

Lesson #3 – Don’t assume your user can handle it

An interesting lesson many engineers can take from the fiasco is that we can’t assume or rely on our users to properly operate our devices, especially if those devices are meant to operate autonomously. Complex systems require more time to analyze and troubleshoot. It seems that Boeing assumed that if an issue arose, the user had enough training and experience, and knew the existing procedures well enough to compensate. Right or wrong, as designers, we may need to use “lowered expectations” and do everything we can to protect the user from himself.

Lesson #4 – Highly tested and certified systems have defects

Edsger Dijkstra wrote that “Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence.” We can’t show that a system doesn’t have bugs which means we have to assume that even our highly-tested and certified systems have defects. This should change the way every developer thinks about how they write software. Instead of trying to expose defects on a case-by-case basis, we should be developing defect strategies that can detect the system is not behaving properly or that something does not seem normal with its inputs. By doing this, we can test as many defects out of our system as possible. But when a new one arises in the field, a generic defect mechanism will hopefully be able to detect that something is amiss and take a corrective action.  

Lesson #5 – Sensors and systems fail

The fact that sensors and systems fail should seem like an obvious statement, but quite a few developers write software as if their microcontroller will never lock-up, encounter a single event upset or have corrupted memory. Sensors will freeze, processors will lock-up, garbage-in will produce garbage-out. Developers need to assume that things will go wrong and write code to handle those cases, rather than if we will always have a system that works as well in the field as it does on out lab benches. If you design your system considering the fact that it will fail, you’ll end up with a robust system that has to do a lot of hard work before it finally finds a way to fail (if it ever does).

I had an opportunity to hear the chief engineering program manager discuss the “Dreamliner” and the complexities of that system.  They were LEGION. Extremely complex.  Very time-consuming to work out all of the “bugs” relative to all of the computer programming necessary for successful AND safe air travel.  Trying to make a system “simple” by making it complex is a daunting task and one that needs to be accomplished, but it is always a “push” to get this done in a timely fashion and satisfy management and Wall Street.

MOST HATED COMPANIES

February 3, 2018


The list of the “most hated American companies” was provided by KATE GIBSON in the MONEYWATCH web site, February 1, 2018, 2:20 PM.  The text and narrative is this author’s.

Corporate America is sometimes, but not always, blamed for a number of misdeeds, swindles, “let’s bash the little guy”, etc. behavior.  Many times, those charges are warranted.   You get the picture.   Given below, is a very quick list of the twenty (20) most hated U.S. companies.  This list is according to 24/7 Wall St., which took customer surveys, employee reviews and news events into account in devising its list: ( I might mention the list is in descending order so the most-egregious offender is at the bottom.

  • The Weinstein Company. I think we can all understand this one but I strongly believe most of the employees of The Weinstein Company are honest hard-working individuals who do their job on a daily basis.  One big problem—you CANNOT tell me the word did not get around relative to Weinstein’s activities.  Those who knew are definitely complicit and should be ashamed of themselves.  This includes those holier-than-thou- actresses and actors pretending not-to-know.
  • United Airlines. The Chicago-based carrier is still in the dog housewith customers after a video of a passenger being forcibly removed from his seat on an overbooked flight went viral last year. You simply do NOT treat individuals, much less customers, in the manner in which this guy was treated.  I wonder how much money United has lost due to the video?
  • Fake news, deceptive ads, invasion of privacy.  You get the picture and YET millions subscribe.  This post will be hyperlinked to Facebook to improve readership.  That’s about the only reason I use the website.
  • I don’t really know these birds but apparently the telecom, one of the nation’s biggest internet and telephone service providers, reportedly gets poor reviews from customers and employees alike. I think that just might be said for many of the telecoms.
  • This one baffles me to a great extent but the chemical company has drawn public ire at a lengthy list of harmful products, including DDT, PCBs and Agent Orange. Most recently, it’s accused of causing cancer in hundreds exposed to its weed killer, Roundup.
  • I’m a Comcast subscriber and let me tell you their customer service is the WORST. They are terrible.  Enough said.
  • I have taken Uber multiple times with great success but there are individuals who have been harassed.  Hit by complaints of sexual harassment at the company and a video of its then-CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver, the company last year faced a slew of lawsuit and saw 13 executives resign, including Kalanick.
  • Sears Holdings. Sears plans to close more than one hundred (100) additional stores through the spring of 2018, with the count of Sears and Kmart stores already down to under 1,300 from 3,467 in 2007. Apparently, customer satisfaction is a huge problem also.  The retail giant needs a facelift and considerable management help to stay viable in this digital on-line-ordering world.
  • Trump Organization.  At this point in time, Donald Trumpis the least popular president in U.S. history, with a thirty-five (35) percent approval rating at the end of December. That disapproval extends to the Trump brand, which includes golf courses, a hotel chain and real estate holdings around the globe. One again, I suspect that most of the employees working for “the Donald” are honest hard-working individuals.
  • Wells Fargo. At one time, I had a Wells Fargo business account. NEVER AGAIN. I won’t go into detail.
  • The insurance industry is not exactly beloved, and allegations of fraud have not helped Cigna’s case. Multiple lawsuits allege the company inflated medical costs and overcharged customers.
  • Spirit Airlines. I’ve flown Spirit Airlines and you get what you pay for. I do not know why customers do not know that but it is always the case.  You want to be treated fairly, fly with other carriers.
  • Vice Media The media organization has lately been roiled by allegations of systemic sexual harassment, dating back to 2003. One of these day some bright individual in the corporate offices will understand you must value your employees.
  • The telecom gets knocked for poor customer experiences that could in part be due to service, with Sprint getting low grades for speed and data, as well as calling, texting and overall reliability.
  • Foxconn Technology Group. Once again, I’m not that familiar with Foxconn Technology Group. The company makes and assembles consumer electronics for entities including Apple and Nintendo. It’s also caught attention for poor working and living conditions after a series of employee suicides at a compound in China. It recently drew negative press for a planned complex in Wisconsin.
  • Electronic Arts. The video-game maker known for its successful franchises is also viewed poorly by gamers for buying smaller studios or operations for a specific game and then taking away its originality.
  • University of Phoenix. I would expect every potential student wishing to go on-line for training courses do their homework relative to the most-desirable provider. The University of Phoenix does a commendable job in advertising but apparently there are multiple complaints concerning the quality of services.
  • I’m a little burned out with the NFL right now. My Falcons and Titans have had a rough year and I’m ready to move on to baseball. Each club sets their own spring training reporting dates each year, though all camps open the same week. Pitchers and catchers always arrive first. The position players don’t have to show up until a few days later. Here are this year’s reporting dates for the 15 Cactus League teams, the teams that hold spring training in Arizona.
  • Fox Entertainment Group. If you do not like the channel—do something else.  I bounce back and forth across the various schedules to find something I really obtain value-added from.  The Food Network, the History Channel, SEC Network.  You choose.  There are hundreds of channels to take a look at.
  • The consumer credit reporting was hit by a massive hack last year, exposing the personal data of more than 145 million Americans and putting them at risk of identity theft. Arguably worse, the company sat on the information for a month before letting the public know.

CONCLUSIONS:  In looking at this survey, there are companies that deserve their most-hated-status and, in my opinion, some that do not.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  As always, I welcome your comments.

%d bloggers like this: