Tag Archives: Mars

Perseverance Arrives!

A Blue Martian Sunset

I was raised in the San Fernando Valley. Sputnik 1 was launched exactly four months after my 10th birthday. I remember lying outside on our front lawn, watching it go over. It was exciting and mysterious at the same time. I have a vague memory of seeing the United States’ first satellite, Exlorer, go over and I have a real vivid memory of seeing Echo as it orbited our planet. Echo was a giant aluminum balloon that, when inflated in orbit, was 100 feet in diameter and reflected the Sun, making it the brightest object in the sky except for the Moon.

I also have vivid memories of rocket engine tests in the Santa Susana mountains, just slight northwest of where I lived. Many of the tests were conducted at night, and I could see the sky light up over those mountains. As I grew up, I had friends whose parents worked at Rocketdyne, the company that built just about every liquid-fueled rocket engine used to power America’s space program, including Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, not to mention the Space Shuttle.

Little did I know that many years later I would, quite serendipitously, get sent on a temporary assignment to work at Rocketdyne. I had been working at a company that manufactured what were, at the time, high density hard drives. This was in 1986 – 1987, and high density meant something like 5 Gigabytes! It was, for some reason I still can’t quite fathom, a seasonal business and when demand dropped all the temporary employees got laid off. That was me. I lost my job on a Friday. Later that evening I got a call from Apple One, the organization I was temping through, telling me to show up at Rocketdyne’s Canoga Park facility the following Monday.

To make an exceedingly long story short, I started work on the FMEA-CIL (Failure Mode & Effects Analysis-Critical Items List) the document that would prove Rocketdyne’s RS-25, SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) was safe for the Shuttle’s return to flight almost a year to the day after Challenger exploded during the ascent of STS-51-L. (For clarity, I think it important to note those engines were not responsible for the loss of Challenger; they had worked just fine.) I had long been a space cadet (in far more ways than one) but I never imagined I could end up working there, as I wasn’t an engineer. Silly me. I just hadn’t realized it takes a lot more than engineers to run a business that large and complex.

I was hired in after a year as what they referred to as a “job shopper.” I was forty years old. I retired 23 years later and it was the best, most fulfilling job I ever had, though dealing with a huge corporation (and “the Rock,” as we called it, was part of Rockwell International, the Boeing Company, United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division, and Aerojet) was why I left early. The Shuttle program was winding down and P&W offered everyone over 60 a severance package I just couldn’t refuse, even though it wasn’t terribly generous.

Nevertheless, I’ve remained deeply interested in space exploration. I have long believed it’s important to the survival of humanity we get off the surface of this planet. I believe we need to establish not merely a scientific, but also a cultural presence off-planet in case of an extinction-level event. Frankly, it’s my opinion if we don’t do something about climate change and our contribution to it, we may be the ones causing such an event.

At any rate, all this is to say I am happy Perseverance landed safely on Mars this afternoon (PST) and appears to be functioning as designed. I’m looking forward to learning more about the Red Planet. I’m especially keen on learning how well the Moxie instrument (see graphic, below) accomplishes its mission of producing oxygen from Martian CO2. Congratulations to JPL and the Perseverance team. Job well done!

PS – I’ve also posted a graphic depicting one of Perseverance’s scientific missions, the Ingenuity helicopter which, if successful, should dramatically improve our ability to send rovers to the most fruitful (scientifically) locations, after they’ve been scouted out by Ingenuity and its successors.


Nu? So Where’s My PhD?

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).

It’s entirely possible I awarded this to myself. If only there was a way to be sure.

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.


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.


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