Yesterday at Better Software and Agile Development Practices East in Orlando, I enjoyed a great keynote talk from Dr Jeff Norris, of Nasa, on Mission Critical Agility. Among the things talked about was the decision to use a lunar orbit rendezvous method, rather than the direct ascent method.
One opportunity that was missed during the talk was to recognise that the Apollo programme was, in itself, an incremental and iterative project. So, NASA has been an Agile organisation for much longer than many might give them credit for.
It wasn’t until Apollo 11 that they landed someone on the moon. Each mission, from 1 to 11 (as well as the numerous missions prior to that not carrying the Apollo name), was a process of experimentation and gradual improvement towards the end goal.
Think of each Apollo mission as a ‘release’, each of which improved upon the previous. Following the tragedy of Apollo 1 (where 3 astronauts lost their life) subsequent Apollo missions were unmanned progressing back to manned flights. Incrementally, missions progressed to achieve earth orbit, then lunar orbit and finally, landing on the moon.
Learning from each mission was used to improve and refine the portion of the journey achieved so far and to guide the next increment.
I’m glad I caught Jeff afterwards to mention this. I get the impression that this point is going to find its way into future iterations of his talk.