Commemorating Humanity’s Brave Explorers and Pioneers

Yesterday was a very special anniversary. It marked the 29th year that has passed since OV-099, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Vehicle Challenger, experienced a catastrophic failure (what NASA calls a Crit 1 failure) during launch, which resulted in the loss of the vehicle and its entire crew. The day was also set aside to commemorate the loss of the Apollo 1 Command Module and its three-man crew during a test on January 27, 1967, and the loss of OV-102, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Vehicle Columbia, which disintegrated during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003, experiencing another Crit 1 failure and the deaths of all aboard.

Challenger women astronauts

Judith Resnik and Christa McCauliffe a couple of days prior to the fateful launch of Challenger.

It was a day to commemorate the loss of these fine people; a day to spend a moment of silence reflecting on the sacrifice they made in their quest to advance the knowledge and, I’d like to think, the purpose of the human race. Truthfully, though I became aware of it on my rocket engine company’s website, I completely forgot about it most of the day and was only reminded when I saw the picture I’m sharing in this post. It’s a picture of the two women who were part of the crew we lost with Challenger’s destruction 29 years ago – Judith Resnik and Christa McCauliffe.

I came across the picture because Ms. Magazine posted it with some information about these two very special women. They pointed out they were the first women to die in space flight. Judith Resnik was also the first Jewish woman to go into space as well as the second American woman astronaut. Christa McCauliffe would have been the first teacher in space. The death of these women means a lot to me and it should mean a lot to you as well. They died in pursuit of greater understanding, of advancing science. They also were in pursuit of education for the youth of not just America, but the entire planet, as well as the noble goal of space exploration and the known and unknown treasures it promises for our species.

These two deaths are especially bittersweet for me, as they were the catalyst that launched what would become my first and, apparently, only actual “career”. Almost one year to the day after Challenger exploded, I began working for the organization that designed and built the Space Shuttle Main Engine and on the document that would represent their portion of the Space Shuttle’s return to flight . . . and service to our space program. I don’t believe I would have found that job were it not for the explosion of that vehicle. I am neither an engineer nor a rocket scientist and, had nothing happened, there would likely have been no need for me.Due to the nature of the document they were preparing to justify a safe return to space flight, they needed people who could work with engineers and rocket scientists and help them input the results of their studies into a document that would satisfy NASA’s requirements of scientific rigidity and organizational accuracy.

Due to the nature of the document they were preparing to justify a safe return to space flight, they needed people who could work with engineers and rocket scientists and help them input the results of their studies into a document that would satisfy NASA’s requirements of scientific rigidity and organizational accuracy. I had the appropriate skills (low bar) and mentality (high bar), along with the need to work wherever the hell I could. :)

At any rate, I ended up working for what was then Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne Division. It subsequently became a part of The Boeing Company, United Technologies’s Pratt & Whitney Division, and is now GenCorp’s Aerojet Rocketdyne. I worked there for 21 of the next 23 years, temporarily leaving in a somewhat ill-fated, but important, return to a family business before returning until my retirement in May of 2010. After nearly five years, I am back working there and am hopeful I can make a difference.

That my good fortune is somewhat a result of the tragedy that cost these two women, and five other astronauts, their lives does not go unnoticed. I hope I honor their memory each day I do my job. I will never forget their sacrifice, nor will I forget the connection their deaths have with my good fortune. I have few heroes in my life. These two are at the top of the list.


Just Flew In. Boy, Are My Arms Tired!

Equipping my new cubsicle

I got a phone and a Dell desktop with Windows 7 and IE . . . while I was there.

I survived my first day back on the job, reasonably intact. I knew I would get a bit of a workout just walking from my car to my desk, but I ended up walking about 3/4 of a mile and climbing around 10 flights of stairs. The first flight I climbed was a mistake. I ended up at the end of a hall where there was a secured door to a clean room. I knew that was the wrong place to be and had to turn around a go back.

I saw close to two dozen former colleagues, the majority of whom I hadn’t seen in nearly five years. Amazing how many of them remarked on how the company would let anyone back in. ;) They know me well.

I am prepared to put up with a boatload of shit coming from what I know is a very old-fashioned aerospace enterprise, but I think it’s going to be even worse than I imagined. Not so much because of the hierarchy, the layers and layers of rules many have forgotten the origin of, or the command-and-control mentality that I know still informs the actions of many of the org’s leaders. There are other, more subtle reasons.

One of the first things I noted was everyone communicating with email; for everything. This wasn’t all that surprising, but it was a bit disconcerting to discover I had a shortcut to Cisco’s Jabber and nobody seemed to know anything about it. I have my work cut out for me. Bottom line, really, is I’m thankful for the opportunity and it couldn’t have come at a better time financially. The fact that it puts me smack dab in the middle of the struggle to be more effective as a team, a community, an organization makes this all the more sweet.

I’m going to try to share what I learn as I learn it. I hope some will find it useful. It’s possible just sharing it will improve its utility to me and, if that’s all I accomplish, I will consider the effort a success.


In Surprise Move, Senate Joins NASCAR

Just came across this photo on Facebook and was moved to edit Marc Antony’s soliloquy for Caesar, which seemed appropriate to me. So, with the mildest of apologies to ol’ Bill, I offer them herein. To wit:

 

Senators in NASCAR-like jackets

 

 

Friends, citizens, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury our middle class, not to praise it.

The evil that we do lives after us;

The good is oft interred with our bones;

So let it be with our middle class. The noble McConnell

Hath told us we were too ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath we answer’d it.

Here, under leave of McConnell and the rest–

For McConnell is an honourable man;

So are they all, all honourable men–

Come I to speak at our funeral.

We were, almost without fail, just

And faithful to our nation.

But McConnell says we were ambitious;

And McConnell is an honourable man.

We worked hard all our lives and taxes

On our efforts did the general coffers fill:

Did this in us seem ambitious?

We freely gave of our abundance

The others might have what we did:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet McConnell says we’re too ambitious;

And McConnell is an honourable man.

You all did see that in general elections

We thrice voted in supply-siders and tricklers,

Who did thrice trick us: was this ambition?

Yet McConnell says we were ambitious;

And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what McConnell speaks,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love us once, not without cause:

What cause withholds you then, to mourn for us?

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with the middle class,

And I must pause till it come back to me.


Kicking Up My Heels At 67

Six RS-25 Rocket Engines

A row of RS-25 engines, formerly SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines).

I had a great two-hour meeting with the man who will be my new manager starting Monday, and to whom I’m deeply grateful for bringing me back to the company I lived at for over two decades. My feeling about returning is probably best summed up by an old friend/colleague who still works there. She commented on a Facebook post where I told my friends I had jumped through the final HR hoop, saying “Welcome home“.

I don’t know how many of you have been lucky enough to work at a place where you can feel that way, but I have. Despite the fact I worked for three of the larger, more (shall we say) staid aerospace companies – as parent organizations; mother ships – in no way diminishes the camaraderie, affection, and deep respect I felt for so many of my colleagues.

Also, I think I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday, a few hours prior to meeting with Geoff. I was thinking about how much hierarchy and command-and-control organization are anathema to me, when I realized that I also work best when I’m involved with a team. I need to be around other people from whom I can learn and share experiences with. It’s my nature. The latter is what gives me the strength to live with the former, and I always have the opportunity to make things better. That’s what I’m ostensibly there to accomplish.

These, then, are the continuing adventures of a 67-year-old man, prematurely retired by circumstances partly beyond his control, who now returns to approximately what he had been doing nearly five years ago. I’m really looking forward to this next part of the journey. I have also discovered I have a great deal of difficulty writing about the things I’m deeply interested in – the business concepts and practices I worked on before retirement and have carefully studied since then – if I’m not involved with them. I just don’t feel I possess the gravitas sitting in my home office that I will have when I’m out there actually working with a group of people to make things happen. I think this move is going to change, if not improve, my blogging and posting habits. Time will tell.


Heading Back To The Ol’ Homestead

Truth to tell, I never wanted to retire. I grew up around men who worked until they dropped dead and I had every intention of doing the same. This was especially so because I wanted to be part of humanity’s return to the Moon and our venture to Mars. It looked like that was not to be when the Space Shuttle program was winding down and those of us working on the Shuttle main engine (SSME) – and other rocket engine programs – who were over sixty were offered a decent severance package, which I accepted. I believed it was the best of several not optimal choices.

Asteroid Strike of Earth

It’s happened before. It WILL happen again.

Today I received a package from the agency that handles contract workers for what is now Aerojet Rocketdyne, and it looks like I will be brought back and will have the opportunity to be a small part of our space program once again. This is no small thing for me, as I have long considered it an absolute necessity for humans to establish not merely a technological, but especially a cultural presence off this planet; if for no other reason than the statistical certainty there will be an extinction level event before long. As long as the only presence we have is on this rock, it becomes a binary event. Having at least a seed colony elsewhere could make all the difference in terms of our ability to come back from such a catastrophe.

To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement. I had pretty much come to the conclusion it wasn’t going to happen and I’m quite capable of dealing with that possibility. Assuming it works as planned, though, is like a lagniappe; an extra helping of dessert I wasn’t expecting. To think it came about because of a chance conversation with an old colleague at an event held by our children’s elementary school is really sweet.

I should also point out I am only going back as a temp, a contractor, and I have no reason to expect this employment will go on for long. In fact, I’m hopeful it will turn out to be more part time, but on a long-term basis, if that’s at all possible. I like some of the other things I’ve become involved in and I have a few obligations I need to conclude as well. l believe it can all be worked out in the next couple of months. I know I’m committed to making that happen. I hope everyone I’m working with is flexible enough for this to be a good thing for all of us. There’s nothing like the ol’ win-win.


Santa Claus is Definitely No Republican

One of the, shall we say, more charming practices of my Rotary Club is that of having someone play the role of “Ratfink” at most meetings. The Ratfink usually resembles either a stand up comedy routine or a roast. Either way, members of the club are generally involved, though when the roast format is used it can get a little snarky . . . to say the least.

My club’s last meeting was treated to a bit of a roast and, for the first time in the slightly over two years I’ve been a member, I was the butt of the routine. The presenter was a gentleman who is a political operative for a local, Conservative Republican of some stature and I know him reasonably well. He and his wife recently celebrated the arrival of their second child and I believe he is a good, devoted husband and father. We are Facebook “friends”.

Let me say something about Rotary International, in general, and my club, The Rotary Club of Simi Sunrise, in particular. Without getting into too much detail, I have come to see Rotary as a challenging, useful organization with goals I have no trouble agreeing with. The motto “Service above self” has always been dear to me, though my experience with it was mostly exhibited in how I performed my job and in my willingness and ability to help others around me. The Four Way Test is also a statement of principle I am in complete agreement with, to wit:

Of the things we think, say, or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOOD WILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Now, I truly have a hard time arguing with these principles, yet have no trouble recognizing there are some for whom they are merely words and the reason they are involved in Rotary is either because they’re looking for business or social connections or because it’s a way to be “charitable” without too much effort. I do believe those people are a small minority, though. But, I digress.

I live in what I believe is a reasonably conservative city; the home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. My Rotary Club consists of some very (did I say “very”?) politically conservative individuals. I make no secret of my political proclivities, which tend to lean far to the left and many of my fellow Rotarians, like last meeting’s Ratfink, are Facebook “friends” who, since I am pretty prolific in my postings, must see some of the stuff (sometimes rants) I post. I do fret a little about upsetting them too much, as I believe we all want the best for our City, though we may disagree on how to get there. I do not question the motives of most, while reserving judgment on some who I believe are either horribly misguided or total assholes.

Santa's a Socialist

That Fat Bastard is at it Again!

The man who served as Ratfink, however, is not one of the latter. He had me stand up, which is customary during a roast-like rendition of the role, and pointed out that one of the “drawbacks” of being as vocal and public as I am on Facebook is that others who might not agree with me can see who I really am (or something like that). I should point out, at this stage of my life I don’t much care. In the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” I have had to spend the vast majority of my life being very careful what I said in order to avoid being ostracized. I don’t plan on going to my grave without showing my “true colors”, so to speak.

He then went on to point out to me that Santa is a Republican, evidenced by the fact he wears red. Now I’m quite certain there were many watching who relished this bit of roasting I was “receiving”, though I couldn’t see as I was at a table closest to the front and I was facing forward toward the speaker. I quietly took my medicine and, when he was finished with me and moved on to the next person, I sat down. However, when he was finished and was returning to his seat, which was only a table away from mine, I audibly pointed out my conclusion that Santa was actually a socialist, as he gives toys to children everywhere in the world. Never mind that red is in most of the world considered a color of revolution and that the old Soviet Union’s and the current People’s Republic of China’s flags are mostly red.

I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with him since, as we had a wonderful program of carolers provide us with entertainment and, afterward, everyone scurried off to their jobs or whatever it was their day was going to bring them. We also won’t have our next meeting for another two weeks as both Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Thursdays, which is the day we meet. However, I know I will be speaking with him. In fact, he has offered to help introduce me to the right people within our City government so I can introduce my concepts regarding the future of work, the collaborative economy, and the use of social media to facilitate the governance and conduct the business of the City and its inhabitants. I’m looking forward to it.

I trust everyone has had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus (for the rest of us) or whatever (if any) holiday you might observe. We also just experienced the Winter solstice; the shortest day of the year and many have celebrated the beginning of a new cycle in which the days will now begin getting longer until the end of June. Truly a festive time of the year. Now we have New Year’s revelry before us and I have a lot of work to do for the first time in quite a while. I wish everyone who comes to my little slice of the blogosphere much joy and happiness. With those two, prosperity is a relative thing and, of course, I wish for your health and well-being as well.


Getting High on Pie. Oh My!

Banana Cream Pie

Just Like This!

My mother used to make the most delicious banana cream pies. I think I could have eaten a whole one when I was a teenager. One Thanksgiving I was taking one of her pies out to our second refrigerator in the detached garage (we lived on the border of North Hollywood and Sun Valley and the garage abutted the Alley just behind Roscoe Blvd.) and I dropped it.

It was in a Pyrex pie dish and just shattered. I was crushed – heartbroken. There was no way to salvage even one morsel because there was no way to tell where there might be pieces of glass. That was over fifty years ago and I think I’m still suffering over it.


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