Catapult Blog

We made it to the ISS

Jun 03, 2020

We have successfully connected the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) and Elon Musk has achieved what so many thought was impossible. I don’t know about you all, but I am excited about the future and what this holds for generations to come.

Did you know before the Crew Dragon was built, a screw was put into place and a suit was even made, everything started from a procurement process known as a Request for Proposal (RFP)? Let’s dissect how this came to fruition for Tesla, SpaceX and NASA.

It’s hard to believe that something so insignificant is actually instrumental in creating this inspiring milestone of sending two brave test pilots into outer space spending time on the ISS for at least 30 days amongst their peers who are already there.

However, if you look back to 1999 when NASA lost their $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter due to spacecraft engineers failing to convert from english to metric measurements when they were exchanging data before the launch. This was outlined in detail within the Statement of Work which originated in the RFP.

My background in government regulated RFP’s is tied to my military service from 2006 – 2010 in the U.S. Air Force. The majority of my time was spent at Vandenberg AFB in California which was a Space Wing. I was in charge of the civil engineering efforts for an Italian Weather Satellite Launch working alongside NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Government and the Italian government. 

As you might expect in 2007 we had no real way of collaborating in real-time, rather in emails and faxes that had a day+ delay in response due to different time zones and schedules. Archaic doesn’t even describe this experience. Worst of all, we would pull the blue prints, our project roadmap, confidential documents and review them at a Starbucks table in public. At the time, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but this one definitely shocked me when we were sharing secure codes in a public setting via phone, text and email that was unencrypted.

Our Satellite launch and the Crew Dragon that we’ve been a part of have a lot of similarities. They all originated from an RFP, they all had team members located around the world working towards a successful mission and this time they had solutions from Atlassian (Bitbucket, JIRA and Confluence), Catapult (RFP management/collaboration tools), Tesla (self-driving and automation features), and, a shared Slack channel to name a few of the tools utilized.

The Italian Satellite launch cost the Italian government $2.2 billion and roughly 18% of that cost was wasted, yes, you read this right, tax-payers money wasted. SpaceX and NASA spent $3.3 Billion on this launch, not including the $4+ Billion spent on Boeing to attempt the same mission but failed to even create a successful test run. Needless to say, SpaceX has done a fantastic job delivering in the private sector.

Why did SpaceX do such an incredible job? Well, SpaceX is focused on space exploration and Boeing is focused on space, flight, engines and more. A big company focused on many different things means they will lack innovation and execution. Things will always take a lot longer to achieve.

The SpaceX Falcon 9, with Dragon crew capsule is serviced on Launch Pad 39-A, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Two astronauts will fly on the SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station scheduled for launch on May 27. For the first time in nearly a decade, astronauts will blast into orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil, a first for a private company. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The perk that SpaceX had when doing an RFP was leveraging a solution that would help centralize the content from every manufacturer, supplier and vendor they worked with. Allowing for quick reviews rather than constantly reinventing the wheel by creating a new RFP project each time. They leveraged the data they had as an upper hand trick to achieve exceptional results. They supplied their vendors with a tool to help automate and streamline their experience so teams weren’t stuck in the weeds of paperwork but rather the delivery of product, formulas, material, etc.

Ultimately, the success of any project lies in the team you have managing the engagement and that they are equipped with solutions that keep them efficient and confident in the duties they are performing. Supporting your team with manual paper-based and excel or word documents doesn’t cut it because this introduces version control issues along with a lack of communication and human error opportunity. Set the tone right with your team and equip them with the tools they will empower them to do their best work for exceptional outcomes!

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