Thursday, March 20, 2014

Week of 3/17-20/14

Time for an update! I know you all want one. And, I like to give the people what they want.

Well, not too much to report. Just another busy week around here. If you didn't know, the weather to a nasty turn and most of our practices were canceled. I'm sure the Killa Kupcakes didn't mind that they didn't have to face the wrath of my hard hit softballs.

Tuesday, my friend Neil came by and I helped him assemble his AR-15. That is, I had to remember all the little tricks to putting together a lower. And, even though there is no "right" way to do it, there is certainly an easy way. I managed to not do it the easy way for about an hour. But, we did finish it, though it did come away with a slight chip in the finish of about 1/8th inch, of which I am very ticked about. But, he was a good sport about it.

The week picked up at work yesterday, and in a nick of time, really. If you spend any time around me, you know my morale for NASA has been pretty low for awhile. I guess maybe I was a bit spoiled when I came to NASA. Shuttle was humming along and Constellation was ramping up, though most of the hard work had already been done. I came in and they put me to work traveling here, there and everywhere..inspecting flight hardware.

But, it isn't 2009 anymore. Flight hardware isn't laying around everywhere and we (NASA) hasn't flown anything in awhile. But, we do have one real project working around here that will be flying very soon. It's called the Multi-Stage Adapter (MSA). It is designed to fit the Orion capsule on a variety of off the shelf rockets such as Delta. The MSA is an aluminum collar with a composite diaphragm on the inside that separates the environments between the rocket and the capsule. The MSA is made of sections of an aluminum-lithium allow that has high strength and low weight, which is then friction stir welded. If you want a quick background on the friction stir welding process, go do some reading. Otherwise, take my word that it is a solid state welding process (joins metal without any melting of the material) which "supposedly" creates a weld that has similar, if not the same, properties as the parent material. One of my main jobs since I arrived here at NASA is to develop different inspection techniques, whether that is phased array ultrasound, radiography, etc, and find ways to make it better, quicker, and easier to implement into the manufacturing process.

Anyway, so the MSA has sections that have to be welded together longitudinally (up and down the axis of the rocket) and then bolting rings for the capsule and rocket, which are welded circumferential (around). It creates 6 different "T" on top and bottom in three different locations, plus a "pull out hole" circumstantially, since the welding process can't get 100% around.

So, Dr. Russell and Mr. Walker, the task lead and team lead respectively, came to me on Monday and asked if I could work radiography on second shift. We have to work second shift because this is "field X-ray", meaning that the we have to take the equipment to the part, as opposed to the part into an X-ray cell, since it is so big. Since we aren't inspecting in an X-ray specific area with proper shielding, there are a lot of safety precautions that have to be observed. More on that later. This isn't outside the ordinary work. We do this a lot. So, I agreed. No problem.

Yesterday rolled around and Dr. Russell asked me to go over the building with him so we could start the safety work. Sure, I said. So, we walked over. As we were looking at the part and judging how we would "shoot it" with X-ray, the Quality and Safety and Mission Assurance guys walked up (they have to be involved). They know us fairly well. They start talking to Dr. Russell, who is obviously in charge. I kind of tune out....till I hear:
"Oh no. Talk to Zach. He is in charge."

Well, that got my attention. So, I turn back around, expecting to see some knee slapping. Obviously, the S&MA and Quality reps thought it was a joke. But Dr. Russell turned to them.

"No. Zach is in charge. He is the lead Level III inspector. He will be taking care of everything tonight. I'm just the hired help."

Well,  it is certainly true that I am a Level III certified NDE engineer (in several methods I might add), even if I am newly minted. I've done my share of hands on inspections, but never as the lead guy. I am usually the grunt. But, as from one of my favorite scenes:

"Yeah. I'm in charge. No problem. I got it all handled."
But on the inside

Luckily, there is an app for that. Errr....a document. Hey, it's a .gov job. There's an instruction document on how to find instruction documents.

I'm really just messing with yall. It isn't that deep. Essentially, it's tell everyone to be out of the building by a time, make sure they all leave, block off all the entrances and post lookouts, establish an 2 MR (a distance to an acceptable level of dose rate), get your Radiation Safety Officer to sign off, and hope no one stumbled into the line of fire. Err... radiation. Of course, in the past we have used an empty building that no one uses and there have been 3 doors total in the hole building. This building is inhabited and has mazes of office areas.

I laid out a timeline for all the activities to be accomplished, gave out instructions to my 5 other co-workers, and we got started. That is to say, we roped off some area and hung "Imminent and Painful Death" signs. Just kidding. It just says "Deadly Radiation in Use"

At 4:15, I walked through the building to ensure no one was still in it. That means every single cube farm, bathroom (ladies rooms have COTS IN THEM! SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?!), boiler room and closet. My very first stop was an upstairs office. There was a guy in his cube and he jumped 3 feet when I told him we were about to start.

"Oh. Yeah. I read that email. Just a few more minutes. I have work to do". I don't want to put anyone out, especially if they are actually working. But this guy wasn't working. Come on. it's 4:30pm. Most likely he was looking at youtube. Just kidding, I am sure he was working hard. But he knew he was supposed to be gone. I politely told him that he needed to leave. Immediately. So he did. But not without some X-ray beams of his own...aimed at your's truly. Hey, we all have jobs to do.

As I finished out my rounds, one of my coworkers informed me that the men in the machine shop weren't going to leave, and he didn't want to be the one to tell them to leave. Apparently they were all hourly guys and they wanted to wait until exactly 4:30 to clock out.  So, I had to head over and deal with that. The conversation went something like:
"Sure, I understand yall want a few more dollars. And, if you do, you will get a special bonus today. Maybe a 3rd arm or a special power. Most likely, all the cells in your skill will die and peel off slowly." I shrugged and started to walk away. Then turned around.
"Probably not. You will probably be fine. But you would have to take my word for it, since I'm the guy in charge." That got them going.

So, the work went smoothly. Make sure the lookouts are clear. X-ray on. X-ray off. Take the film to the processor. Set up next shot. Repeat.

At one point we were looking at the survey meter and were surprised that we weren't seeing any radiation. Then we realized we didn't have it turned on. When we turned it on, it spiked to the maximum. The technician and I looked at each other. Looked at the meter. Looked at each other again. And realized it must be malfunctioning since the power to the X-ray tube was off. We shared a nervous laugh and got another meter. (For those all worried about me, we have film badges, pocket dosimeters, and a host of other tools.)

Anyway, here are some pics of the MSA

The inspection took around 4 hours to take the 15 or so shots. So, at 8pm I headed home. I stopped at Taco Bell...even though it's the one that I CONSTANTLY have issues with. I ordered and zipped home. When I got home, I opened up my chalupa to find this:
THIS is what's wrong with America.