Just thought I should mention today (Thursday, 14 May 2020) is the 10th anniversary of my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’m still not entirely sure it was the right thing to do (accept the early severance package they offered everyone over 60) but her I yam!
Category Archives: Space and Exploration
“Is it all just for us, or do we get to share it with anyone?”
~ Paul Sutter (Astrophysicist on “How The Universe Works”)
Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is around 100,000 light years in diameter. That’s roughly 587,900,000,000,000,000 miles or 946,100,000,000,000,000 kilometers across. Those are in the quadrillions, which translates loosely into a “shitload.” The fastest man-made object—according to my research on the Intertubes—was a bit of a toss-up between NASA’s Helios 2 and their Juno spacecraft; that is until the Parker Solar Probe was launched. When it reaches its closest to the sun (in a few years) it will be traveling at approximately 430,000 MPH! That’s screaming. However, even at that speed it would take nearly 1,560 years to cross the entire galaxy.
Current estimates suggest there may be as many as 200,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe. Astronomers, astrophysicists, and cosmologists suggest our galaxy alone contains up to 200,000,000,000 stars. That’s an awful lot of stuff, eh?
Yet, in all of this, we have not been able to answer the most fundamental question we have about the universe . . . Are we alone? Is there life out there we just haven’t discovered? I like how astrophysicist Paul Sutter looks at it (see the quote from him, above, that I started this post off with.) I find it difficult to believe, now that we understand much of the physics and chemistry of the Universe, that life hasn’t (or won’t) evolve in places other than this one nondescript star system we call home.
Another quote I love is one I’m going to paraphrase, as the original quote, from Edward Robert Harrison, doesn’t quite provide the essence of what I’m trying to get across. His quote is: “Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people.” It almost says it all, but I think “Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas which, given enough time, begins to wonder where it came from . . . and where it’s going,” is a bit more on point.
If you are unfamiliar with, or new to, the field of cosmology you might not know what this means. Essentially, it’s refining what is the generally accepted understanding of how the Universe has evolved from nothing but sub-atomic particles to Hydrogen and, through the process of star formation (and spectacular stellar deaths via supernovae) the heavier elements have been formed . . . many of which are the building blocks of life, and us. We’re the descendants of the primal Hydrogen that made up the early universe and its first generation of stars.
To me, the concept of evolution—both of the universe itself and of life on Earth (perhaps elsewhere)—is far more incredible and truly beautiful than any origin story of any religion I’ve encountered . . . and I’ve encountered a fair number of them. Imagining the evolutionary process, which has played out over billions and billions (h/t Carl Sagan) of years is—for me—a challenging flight of fancy and an enlightening exercise in the dialectic, or zen, or yin-yang of life in this universe.
I hope one day we’ll find out we’re not alone. Perhaps that will give us the humility we need to get along with one another on this little blue dot we call home.
I found this piece of historical info about the—shall we call it “first half”—of the Shuttle program in one of my collections of “stuff.” Note that it ends with the Challenger disaster, which happened almost a year to the day before I was hired in (initially as a temp) at Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division, working on the document that would prepare the SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) for the return to flight on September 29, 1988. Note also, as engineers are wont to do, the word “Incident” is misspelled at the bottom of the sheet. Color me unsurprised. OV-105 (Orbiter Endeavour) is also not on the list at the very bottom of the page.
I don’t imagine this will be terribly interesting to anyone who isn’t a bit of a human space flight geek like me but, as I have said recently, I need to memorialize some of the things I’ve kept over the years. They may not be of value to anyone but me—hell . . . they may not even be of value to me—but I want to get them scanned or reproduced and put out into the aether, for my sanity and possible future use.
Here’s an award I received when I was working on the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) program back in the day. NB – This was a few years after I hired in and Rocketdyne was then owned by Rockwell International, before it was purchased by Boeing, then United Technologies, then Aerojet (current owner).
Actually, when I first hired in (after being a “job shopper”, a temp, for a little over a year), I did take a great class on how the SSME operated . . . still operates as today’s slightly modified RS-25, four of which will power NASA’s Orion spacecraft, providing 2 million pounds of thrust and working with a pair of solid rocket motors to generate a total of 8 million pounds of thrust. Orion—also known as SLS (Space Launch System)—is being built to return humans to deep space destinations, including the Moon and Mars.
I love the PBS documentary series, NOVA. The fact that it’s entertaining and informative, oddly enough, is not what makes it stand out for me, though. It’s the introduction. The music is beautiful and uplifting. It inspires, even if only momentarily . . . and it never fails to do so. Here’s the best video I could find of it. Don’t let the title fool you. It’s only the latest version we’re interested in, so here’s the very end of what is a somewhat longer video.
There’s another bit of the intro that speaks to me as well. It happens at 1:11 and, unfortunately, it passes way too fast. I don’t expect others will relate to it quite like I do. After all, I spent over two decades working on the Space Shuttle Main Engine and am a lifelong space cadet — in more ways than one. When I see that astronaut floating in space, it almost chokes me up. It’s kind of bittersweet, though, as living down here the majesty of what we’re capable of achieving is somewhat offset by the mayhem we’re creating all too frequently. Nevertheless, at least for a few seconds, this picture — combined with the music — is wonderfully moving. Here’s the pic. I watched the video full screen and grabbed this piece.