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Tag Archives: Apollo

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.

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Thanks For The Boost Rocketdyne!

Atlantis Ascends

Atlantis Ascends on Three SSMEs

Before I go any further, I want to explain why I use only the name Rocketdyne in the title of this post. During the time I worked there, it was owned by Rockewell International, The Boeing Company, and Pratt & Whitney – a Division of United Technologies. The video was produced by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR), but the flights and the engines depicted are from those three organizations, as well as others that preceded them. In reality, they are from the people of Rocketdyne; those folks who worked tirelessly to help boost humans and human artifacts into space and out into the cosmos. Without them, none of this would have been possible.

It’s important to note that Rocketdyne engines have powered virtually every American astronaut, with the exception of those who have ascended on Russian vehicles, into Low Earth Orbit and beyond. A large portion of the robotic exploration of the Solar System and its planets have depended on Rocketdyne’s engines to get to their destinations. The Hubble telescope owes its usefulness to the Space Shuttle, and the Apollo Moon explorers were returned from the surface of the Moon thanks in large part to Rocketdyne engines. Simply put, our Space Program would not exist were it not for Rocketdyne propulsion.

Now PWR has just released a new video and I would like very much to share it. I don’t know if others will get from it what I do. After all, I worked there, on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program, for over two decades. I could not watch the Shuttle ascend off the launch pad without having to choke back a tear or two every time. As a matter of fact, watching old launches still excites the hell out of me. I am proud. So sue me.

Even if you don’t resonate with the “hurling humans into space” part, the sheer taming of all that power should give you a little bit of a chill. Or you’re dead. Who knows?

Here is PWR’s latest release entitled “Proud”:


Rocketdyne Gets Snubbed Again!

Endeavour's Final Mission

The SCA, Endeavour (OV-105), and chase plane shortly after departing Edwards AFB

I must admit to being a little mystified that NASA hasn’t chosen to fly over and salute Rocketdyne today. Every main engine that powered every Shuttle flight into orbit was designed, manufactured, and assembled primarily at the Canoga Avenue campus. I know they couldn’t fly over every place where components were made in the country, but they’re flying over the freaking Hollywood sign and Universal Studios! Rocketdyne’s campus is just a few miles to the Northwest of those locations. How hard would it have been?

I have often lamented the fact that Rocketdyne never saw fit to advertise itself much. Whenever there was a launch of an Atlas or Delta vehicle, the vehicle manufacturers and integrators always had their names and logos prominently displayed. I am willing to bet very few people in this country even recognize the name Rocketdyne. Do they know every American Astronaut (other than those who’ve flown on Russian missions) was lifted into space by a Rocketdyne engine? I doubt it.

Mercury, Gemini, Apollo. All those flights were powered by Rocketdyne engines. The Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) was powered off the Moon’s surface by a Rocketdyne engine. The Space Shuttle Orbiters would never have made it to LEO were it not for the Space Shuttle Main Engines. The SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters – or Motors, SRMs) only burned for 126 seconds before separation from the vehicle stack. The Main Engines continued burning for approximately six more minutes, depending on the mission. The SSME was – and still is, as far as I’m aware – the only reusable and fully throttleable rocket engine ever designed and flown.

Anyway, today marks what for me is a very sad day. It should be sad for all of us, IMO. This is the final flight (albeit strapped to the back of the SCA, a specially modified 747) of the last of the Orbiter Vehicles that served us for well over two decades and, unfortunately, we currently have nothing to replace it. The ISS is still on orbit, but we now have to hitchhike there aboard Russian rockets. There’s really no way to tell how long it will be before we return to space.

It also reminds me that I was put out to pasture, though nobody’s suggested ensconcing me in a museum 🙂 I didn’t realize how much retirement would affect me. I’ve enjoyed having time to be with my children, who are eight and eleven. I’ve also enjoyed working at building a modest service business supplying social media marketing for small businesses. However, in this economy that has turned out to not be a very useful business model and, once again, I find I must reinvent myself. Today I’ve decided to wallow a bit in my grief. Grief for the symbolic end of the Shuttle program, on which I labored for over two decades and grief for the symbolic end of my usefulness as a human being, which is what retirement sometimes feels like.

Rocketdyne Logo

The Original Rocketdyne Logo

One more thing. In my opinion Rocketdyne deserves better. I know people whose entire lives were dedicated to the space program. They worked tirelessly; lived and breathed the concept of space travel and exploration. And those engines played a major role in putting Endeavour (OV-105) on orbit. Just sayin’.


We Don’t Need No Stinking Meetings!

The Ubiquitous Conference Room: Where Collaboration Goes to Die

Before you get your panties in a bunch, I’m not really advocating the complete abolition of meetings. I always loved getting together with 20 or 30 of my closest associates and spending the first ten minutes – of what always managed to completely fill the exact amount of time allotted to it – with banter about our kids, our pets, our plants, and our plans for retirement. Regardless, it always seemed to me there were just a few too many of them, and many were just . . . well . . . kind of unnecessary. So I’m just saying maybe we should consider there are meetings that are a complete – or near complete – waste of everyone’s time. Allow me to provide an example and, hopefully, I won’t piss off my former employer too much by sharing this.

Quite a few years ago I was a member of the High Pressure Fuel Turbopump team for the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at a famous, but not very well-known organization. [Pop Quiz! Who designed the engines that powered the Saturn vehicles to the moon?] At the time, another company was in the process of certifying their design for the same pump, as (Warning! the following statement may be hotly disputed by the parties, and they are only a partial recollection from a limited perspective) NASA had determined their (the other company’s) design was more reliable and, therefore, more safe. Unfortunately, this other organization was having trouble with some of their design and they weren’t meeting their certification and delivery goals. For this reason, we were given a contract to produce ten more high pressure fuel pumps.
For a length of time I can no longer recall (this was in the late 1990s, I believe, and the experience was somewhat painful), but let’s say it was around or over a year, we had a stand-up meeting every day to discuss what had happened the day before and what we wanted to happen that day. There were always between 15 and 20 people in attendance. However, on most days only a few of these folks actually had to be there. Unfortunately, it was impossible at the time for anyone to know whether or not they were needed without attending the meeting to see and hear what was talked about.
At the time, Macromedia had a product they called Generator which, as the team’s webmaster and web content volunteer learner guy, I had discovered. Generator worked with Flash to create animated displays. Among the things you could do with it was to create a ticker tape that would run a stream of updates at the bottom of an employee’s display. I knew nothing of “social” back then, but it sure seemed to me that having people update their activity through the use of this ticker tape would obviate the necessity for at least half (probably more like 80%, thank you Mr. Pareto) of the meetings we were having. This seemed a significant savings to me. Unfortunately, I might as well have been standing in the corner talking to it.

Now that this occurrence has faded in my rearview mirror, I can look at it a little more rationally. At the time, it was just one of numerous ways in which I saw us spending far more money and effort than necessary to get things done (don’t get me started on how click-to-talk phones could have sped up the flow of components through the shop). It wasn’t to be.

Although I’m no longer in that world (corporate, that is), I have good reason to believe things haven’t changed much in all this time. I know they hadn’t by the time I left (May of 2010). Are you still having meetings that accomplish little other than to fill up the hours? Here’s a suggestion. Read the book by Patrick Lencioni – “Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable“. It’s a great business book masked as an entertaining fable, in the mold of Eli Goldratt’s “The Goal“. See if you can’t turn your meetings into what they should be, a vital and invigorating component of running an organization rather than a time-wasting drag on everyone’s energy and enthusiasm.


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