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  • Writer's pictureHoward Hulin

Just Why Do Rockets Explode?

I spent the last 25 plus years climbing the leadership ladder in the field of Quality Assurance; more specifically Aerospace Manufacturing Quality Assurance. From airframe production to precision machined components to rubber seals; fuel system components for rocket engines to electrical connectors. In each of these leadership positions, it was vital to know exactly who the internal customers were for each and every department or process, their responsibilities, and requirements especially when a failure occurs.

Let's take a look at a typical Turtle Diagram for the process of "Design" for a company that's an industry expert in the design and manufacturing of fuel system components for rocket engines. Let's call them RocketCo.

On the left hand side, you'll see a box labeled "Input." In the manufacturing world and maybe even yours, these are typically provided by the "Customer" and in this case let's call the customer, Universe Starlifter. Universe Starlifter is also the supplier of data so it get tricky sometimes to keep track of who is whom (or is it whom is who?) For each of those inputs there exists a receiving element; the Customer. In this case, it would be RocketCo's Design (or Engineering) department.

Say for example Universe Starlifter gave RocketCo very detailed design requirements for a new gizmo. As you can see in the center oval, Design for RocketCo is then responsible for "converting customer, industry, and internal requirements into drawings, ATP's (Acceptance Test Procedures), QTP's (Qualification Test Procedures) and tooling for manufacturing processes."

Let's say that in their requirements, Universe Starlifter required that the new gizmo had to withstand an internal pressure of 1000 psig at a temperature of -50 degrees C ? One would expect that RocketCo's Design Engineers in either their ATP or QTP would list the same requirements. Pretty simple right? But what might happen if RocketCo's Design department listed in their ATP the pressure requirement as 100 psig at a temperature of -50 degrees C ? Manufacturing makes the parts. Quality inspects, tests and accepts the parts and somehow it got all the way to final assembly at Universe Starlifter and onto the lift pad with a multi-million dollar satellite on top ready to be launched ?


Though the example and companies above are made up, the reality of mistakes made and the pictures above are real. In this case, the Design department of RocketCo is both the Customer and Supplier of data. It's easy to see that RocketCo didn't have a proicess of checks and balances for either the ATP or QTP and probably the drawsing themselves before providing them to their internal customer; Manufacturing and Quality.

The resulting catastrophe could have been avoided if RocketCo's Quality System had an internal process whereby an independent review was preformed that matched requirement for requirement of the data before it was released to the manufacturing process. I'd say RocketCo's customer service really sucked this time and it probably cost them future contracts as well due to their lack of a fully developed Quality System.

How does your system of checks and balances measure up? Do your internal processes consist of functions that are both customers and suppliers? Do you know who they are and what their responsibilities are to both their customers and suppliers? How do you know what's good or bad? All these processes and more are vital to assuring your customers are continuously delighted with your customer service,

In the continuing weeks, I'll be publishing my own experiences (and maybe yours) regarding customer service in hopes that establishments will get the word out that as customers, we still need to know we are important and that "Brick and Mortar" stores can survive.

Email me at

Until next time, use your voice! The moon is the moon and the sun is the sun. If anyone tries to tell you anything different, use your voice and speak up!

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