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Reflections on the Space Shuttle’s Final Mission

By Mike Peery
Space Shuttles final mission

As I watched the final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis earlier this month, I was overcome with pride. Pride in the fact Tecplot, Inc. played even a small role in a program that proved to be the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. The fact that NASA developed the science to be able to lift an object the size of Atlantis off the ground, place it into orbit around the earth, do things like launch satellites and help build a space station from its cargo bay, and then calculate the precise moment, angle and duration to fire the retro rockets to bring it back into the earth’s atmosphere, and land safely on a tiny airstrip in Florida or California on a glide is truly incredible.

The space shuttle program is probably the most complex engineering and technology project ever undertaken by man. Think about it. The project spanned more than 30 years. The Requirements Document alone was thousands and thousands of pages. As the missions evolved over the years and technology evolved the shuttle was in an almost constant state of change. Everything was supersized: requirements, design, development, change control, version control, data management, metadata management, etc. and it all came together to put more than 350 humans into earth orbit at 18,000 mph and bring them back to earth on a glide — that’s the essence of engineering elegance.

Don and I actually started working with NASA when we were both still at Boeing, and I remember watching the first shuttle landing on April 14, 1981. It wasn’t long after that that we left Boeing and started the company and our first really big contract was developing CFD codes for the NASA Ames Research Center. Those were exciting times:

  • We were way ahead of the Russians in the space race
  • Engineers were heroes
  • We had budgets
  • We had headcount

But, people weren’t working on it for the paycheck. It was much more than that. It was the new frontier. It was so exciting!

NASA Langley was the first Tecplot software user. One of our guys dropped off an early version of the Tecplot software, on a floppy disc (remember them?), and the NASA guys started playing around with it. Very soon after that, they bought a couple licenses, liked it, and kept on buying and asking us to add features and functions — and we did. And that’s one of the cool things about Tecplot — we adapt and evolve based on feedback from our users. The better the feedback the better the software becomes, and Tecplot has the advantage of being developed hand-in-hand with the NASA engineers as the shuttle program evolved over some 20 plus years.

So, when you buy a Tecplot license today, you’re buying a CFD visualization software package that was developed to meet the stringent requirements of the most computation intensive, mission-critical and life-critical computing environment known to man — the NASA space shuttle program, and we are extremely proud to have been a part of that effort.

Early tomorrow morning, many will say it’s the end of an era. For us, and we’re certain for NASA, the closing of one door is the opening of another one. We’re certain great things are in the planning stages even now and we’re proud to think we’ll play even a small role in such amazing adventures again.