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September 5, 2008 Vol. 1, Issue 8


A new Academy course takes a systematic look at the design process.

The Academy for Program/Project & Engineering Leadership introduced Innovative Design for Design Engineering Applications (IDEA), a new course offering, at the Kennedy Space Center in July 2008. In collaboration with its contractor partners, the Academy developed IDEAS to help NASA’s workforce address the broad challenge of transitioning from the operational culture of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs to a design and development culture that reflects the current life cycle needs of the Constellation program.

The pilot session of IDEA was a three-day course that employed a variety of learning activities: lectures, guest speakers, videos, NASA case studies about design problems, and several interactive exercises that offered hands-on opportunities. “The design practice of systems engineering is more of an art learned through experience,” said course instructor John Sturrock.

IDEA introduced several new concepts and tools for design rather than focusing on an in-depth investigation of any single approach. These included the Pugh matrix (also known as a Criteria-Based Matrix), Quality Functional Deployment (QFD), the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ), ethnography and biodesign, and several types of brainstorming exercises.

Two case studies developed specifically for this course examined design challenges associated with current NASA projects. One case focusing on the design of the astronaut seat for the Orion vehicle was chosen to illustrate how different modes of thinking lead to diverse solutions. The case shared the experience of the lead designer of the astronaut seat, who was having trouble arriving at a design solution through the use of software-based visual tools such as Pro-Designer and AutoCAD. By building a prototype seat in his garage, the designer employed a kinesthetic approach that enabled him to touch and feel how the controls and handling worked, which led to new breakthroughs. The second case concerned the lunar habitat project, which was also the subject of the class’s final design project. John Sturrock chose these topics in part because both emphasized human factors design, a critical challenge for NASA as it develops a new generation of human space flight hardware for long-duration missions.

The culminating activity for the course was a final project in which participants worked from design requirements to develop sketches and prototypes for one of the following: 1) a current work project, 2) creative solutions for electromagnetic barriers for the sleeping quarters for NASA’s planned lunar habitat, and 3) a new stovetop design (for those who wanted to work on a non-NASA design). Two groups of participants generated several ideas for the lunar habitat and then scored them using tools covered in the course. The designs receiving the highest scores were written up and shared with the lunar habitat program.

“I got three main things out of the course,” said Jim Sledd, a participant from Marshall Space Flight Center. “First was the importance of sketching before you jump to doing CAD modeling. Second was the TRIZ method. The third thing was the Pugh matrix for evaluating different concepts against the core requirements. It really helps to focus early on to figure out which of your ideas are worth pursuing.”

Other participants saw opportunities for additional offerings that would build on the tools and techniques introduced in IDEAS. “I would offer some follow-on on subjects like TRIZ, QFD, and the Pugh matrix,” said Karim Courey of Johnson Space Center.

Learn more about the Academy’s in-depth offerings.

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