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Calibration laboratory visit leads to talks, breakthrough

The long tradition of Army-NASA cooperation has led to the new transfer of computer software which will potentially save the government nearly $4 million.

And this breakthrough all began with a routine visit by senior Army calibration leaders last November to NASA’s Metrology and Calibration Laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Marshall had thousands of MET/CAL automated software procedures developed by its programmers over the past decade for the Space Shuttle program. The Army uses similiar software for its calibrations.

Officials with both agencies agreed the Army, government and taxpayers would benefit if NASA gave its already developed software to its Redstone neighbor.

The result is the transfer of 2,400 automated software procedures from NASA to the Army. This represents 12 years of programming done by a NASA programmer. And it amounts to about $3.8 million in potential savings as these procedures are reused in support of calibrations performed by the Army’s Test, Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment laboratories.

“The Army would’ve had to spend a lot of time putting all this together,” said Gary Kennedy, the Marshall metrology and calibration representative. He took the Army’s formal letter, requesting the transfer of the automated procedures, back to Marshall’s management where it was subsequently approved. A transfer ceremony was held Jan. 27.

Marshall gave the software to the Army, with whom it has traditionally shared calibration support.

“It was developed with government money,” Kennedy said, “so there’s no use in waste of government money to do it again.”

This represents 2,400 unique automated software calibration procedures to support test, measurement and diagnostic equipment, according to David Hargett, chief of the metrology engineering division at the Army’s TMDE Activity.

“We currently have a couple of software programmers that are writing MET/CAL software calibration procedures,” Hargett said. “In a four-month window, they had finished writing maybe 25. So, with a little modification to the procedures that NASA has given us, our numbers will increase to over 2,400.”

Jeff Cheatham, senior metrologist with Marshall Space Flight Center, had meticulously created the automated procedures since 2002 in support of the Space Shuttle. Asked how he did it, he said, “one at a time.” The software eliminates the possibility of human error by technicians.

“Basically they (the automated procedures) take over control of the instrumentation,” explained Cheatham, who received his training in the Air Force from 1982-87 as a precision measurement equipment laboratory technician. “The software takes all the measurements, does all the data reduction.”

MET/CAL, an automated calibration software solution, is a commercial off-the-shelf product manufactured by Fluke Calibration, a company based in Everett, Washington.

Part of the Aviation and Missile Command, TMDE Activity recently acquired some MET/CAL licenses here and also at its calibration laboratory at Tobyhanna Army Depot, Pennsylvania. With that, they began writing some of their own MET/CAL calibration procedures. The Army calibrators saw the work their NASA counterparts had already done during their tour at Marshall in November. That generated discussions which led to the breakthrough transfer of software.

“The taxpayer savings with this will be tremendous,” Fred Melton, chief of the logistics support division at TMDE Activity, said.

“The good relationship that we’ve had with Marshall,” Hargett said, “as well as their generosity is helping the taxpayer and the Army save money.”

A personal example of the Army-NASA ties, Kennedy is a former Army calibrator. The military was the primary source of training for people in the calibration industry.

“What we’re trying to do is work together and save taxpayers dollars,” Kennedy said. “And to continue to have a good relationship between the Army and NASA.”

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