Roger Williamson, Inside Outer Space: A Look Behind the Scenes…

Posted by on Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 in Blog

Reported by Laraine Lasdon

President Dale Lowe called the meeting to order. Margaret Curtis led the group in pledges, Bill Davies gave the invocation, and Richard Shannon led the Four Way Test. Guests and Visitors were greeted at the top of the stairs by Aaron Schmidt, and Carl Noble introduced them.

We welcomed our newest member Elliott Scott who was sponsored by Allison Allen; then we congratulated Vlad Bahrencu, Sharon Golden and Chris Soileau as they traded their Red Badges for Blue ones!

Griffon Ramsey made an announcement about the Communications and Technologies Committees; and Nadir Abdeladim invited members to attend his upcoming wine tasting on Friday, June 16th, at Lake Travis in Lago Vista. The theme is the Texas Hill Country, but you can bring any type of wine you’d like!

District Governor Bruce Golden presented Michael Portman with his District Roll of Fame Award. Congratulations, Michael!

After President Dale’s Announcements and some Fellowship Tom Howard introduced Roger Williamson, Ph.D with some new information we may not have known about him even though he has been a member of our club for 16 years.

Roger started his talk by showing us a video of a shuttle lift off – very impressive and exciting! We then saw images of astronauts and of him as a young (er) man in the main operations control room.

In addition to this main room there are many smaller rooms filed with personnel. For example, a woman noticed that Challenger (not the one that exploded) had an issue that could cause the last engine to shut down. This information was passed around and in seconds the astronaut was told to inhibit this engine. He did and the launch was saved.

Roger then discussed his early years and how his interest in Physics grew. Early on he was invited to sit on one of many committees researching the many issues involved in the shuttle development.

His early work with Scientific Balloons got him invited to Antarctica, and he lived under the snow in a facility made up of seven miles of tunnels at the Byrd Station.

Other highlights included:

  • In 1980 he worked with the Japanese re: sounding rockets. These tested instruments for future space shuttles.
  • In 1981 the Columbia space shuttle was being built– a tile issue caused the tragic accident.
  • The Tethered Satellite: this explored the environment for early Mars Landing equipment
  • Mishaps: Roger described a couple of incidents where things went wrong – these are called “Mishaps”. For example, in 1998 the Mars Climate Orbiter hit Mars instead of orbiting Mars. Cost: $285M

President Dale thanked Roger and informed the club that his talk on “Mishaps” would be continued next week.

Following his move to Austin in 2000 Roger has continued to consult for NASA, universities and industry. Currently he is co-developing a seismometer to explore the moon’s core. Concurrently he is uncovering management practices in organizations that cause failures and developing ways to reduce or prevent them. Of particular concern are NASA’s engineering practices and the culture that supports them that have led to (sometimes tragic) system failures.

Roger is a member of the Rotary Club of Austin and a Paul Harris Fellow. He has chaired the Rotary Foundation and Program committees. He has served on the board of directors of the club and as a trustee of the Austin Rotary Club Foundation. He is also on the board of directors of the Austin Symphony Orchestra and an avid tango dancer.

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