Mornings with kids are tough. Getting them up, dressed, fed, out the door, into the car or bus, fully equipped for 8 or more hours of learning, lunching, doing after school athletics or activities rivals launching a space shuttle EXCEPT that you may have more than one rocket, often traveling to different targets, every weekday morning. Throw in the rogue field trip, class celebration, or science fair and it can be a Herculean feat for even the most organized families.
With the Mars Curiosity Rover making its historic landing the other day, I began to wonder if busy parents could learn how to make mornings more routine and organized from NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Photo: NASA/Amanda Diller
Before a space shuttle can take off, NASA Launch Control works its way through a massive checklist. Here’s what NASA and its contractors have to do before any launch gets the thumbs-up.
1/ Oxygen purge
From tanks on the ground, crews fill the shuttle’s payload bay and aft compartment with gaseous nitrogen to lower oxygen levels — on Apollo 1, oxygen on board caught fire during a test and killed the crew.
Teen Translation: Did last night end with screaming, tears, and slamming doors? Make sure you and your teen purge any stress that is lingering from the previous night’s struggles with homework or arguments. An apology and heartfelt statement of what you love about your child can release tension like nothing else. A tall glass of water also does wonders for filling brain cells with much needed hydration.
2/ Launch status check
Team leaders, including the flight director in Houston, give verbal confirmation that all systems are go.
Teen Translation: Does everyone in your household know who the team leaders are on this mission and what their systems are? Just because someone (usually mom) stands in the center of the home and barks orders does not necessarily make them a team leader. Identify areas of expertise and make sure each leader knows their responsibilities and systems. The essential parts of the “systems” usually include a clock, a calendar with specific daily appointments and activities written out and visible to all leaders, and access to supplies such as food, office supplies, and cash.
3/ Launch readiness check
The space shuttle operations manager, head of NASA’s Mission Management Team, checks in with 23 representatives from places like Lockheed Martin and the United Space Alliance. This step was added to the checklist after the Challenger accident: Concerns about the shuttle’s O-ring were raised by contractors the night before but never reached higher-ups.
Teen Translation: Just as no single astronaut can outfit and launch a rocket, do not assume that your teen can or has gathered everything needed for success each day. Employ all the expert information available to ensure a successful launch and display it in a place that is a command center for the family. In our house we now have a chalkboard wall by the door into the garage where all appointments, field trips, and special events are clearly listed and anyone can add important information to the list. There is also a calendar and a clock. Nightly analysis of the following resources is imperative by various team members:
Classroom websites School Newsletters School lunch menus
Athletics schedules Email Communications
Culling of Backpacks
4/ Senior staff check
The Kennedy Space Center chief processing engineer’s team of senior staff members (called greybeards) signals that they’re standing by to help if needed. Should any issues arise, they work in conjunction with various officers, including the chief shuttle project engineer, to perform any troubleshooting.
Teen Translation: Do not interfere with your children as they move through their routine. Just let them know that if they need help, you are standing by.
5/ Payload readiness check
The KSC payload launch manager confirms that all payloads are secure and safely stowed. In addition to payloads on the ground at Kennedy, this check can include payloads about the International Space Station, which could be the orbiter’s destination.
Teen Translation: Backpacks and all supplies needed for the entire day are loaded in the car or are stowed right in front of the exit door.
6/ Safety check
The KSC shuttle safety and mission assurance team signs off on the mission’s compliance with NASA’s safety regulations — long checklists for every piece of hardware on board.
Teen Translation: This is a good time to notice if any dress code violations are likely, shoes are tied, clothing is weather appropriate.
7/ Weather check
A staff of meteorologists provides the launch weather officer, a civilian working with the Air Force, with updates on daily weather conditions. The launch director, who has continued to monitor weather throughout the launch, verifies one last time that the area around the launchpad isn’t too windy or rainy for the shuttle to fly through.
Teen Translation: Even though you will be unlikely to get your teen to wear a raincoat or carry an umbrella, they really do like to know what to expect weatherwise. A brief chat about the forecast keeps everyone informed.
8/ Confirm checklist
The launch director tells everyone — including the astronauts — that any troubleshooting is finished, all documented requirements for launch have been completed, and they’re ready to go.
Teen Translation: This usually sounds like this in our house, “IF YOU DO NOT GET IN THE CAR RIGHT THIS MINUTE, YOU ARE GOING TO MISS THE BUS AND YOU CAN WALK TO SCHOOL!!!!”
9/ Proceed to launch
NASA’s test director takes over the countdown at 9 minutes. From here on, only high-level issues, like a no-go from the NASA administrator, can ground the vehicle.
Teen Translation: Before putting the car in reverse, count down from 10, give everyone that last ten seconds to remember their project, their shin guards, their bake sale money, and then quietly say, “Blast Off” as you head out for the day.
A final note. I am learning that play is essential to making a day start well. Get some walkie talkies and do NASA like statements like “Ground Control to Bathroom, do you read?” or “Launch will Proceed in OH-Ten Minutes, Do you read?”
Play some music (NASA likes to wake up astronauts with clever space music: Check out this great site with a list of all the wake-up songs played over the years to astronauts in the space program http://history.nasa.gov/wakeup%20calls.pdf)
Here are a few of my favorites to get you started on a playlist: Rocket Man by Elton John, Space Oddity by David Bowie, Satellite by Dave Matthews Band, Blue Sky by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, Drops of Jupiter by Train, Darth Vader’s Theme from Star Wars, E.T. by Katy Perry, What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, Fly Me to the Moon by Frank Sinatra.