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Tag Archives: Mercury

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”:

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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’.


Fittingly for Halloween, I’ve Become Invisible

Am I That Transparent?

Am I That Transparent?

Does Retirement Make You Disappear?

When I accepted an early retirement from the company I  had worked at for well over two decades, I did so because I knew both our business and the economy in general were shrinking. I knew, because of my position in the enterprise Program Management Office (actually, an attempt at a Project Portfolio Management Office, as I recall), there were going to be layoffs and I had reason to suspect I might be one of them. There were lots of good reasons to believe so, not the least of which was my propensity to push for the use of social media to both enhance internal communications and to better market an organization that had never really marketed itself (have you ever heard of Rocketdyne? You have and don’t even know it. See if you recognize any names here). Neither of these positions had proved all that popular amongst either the leadership or the rank and file.

I was also over two and half years into the demographic the offer was made to (everyone 60 and over) and whether they meant to or not, they were telling me I was getting long in the tooth and, perhaps, they wanted me to move over for younger blood. At least that’s how it felt. They may not have meant it that way but it felt a bit like they were telling me, regardless of my service or anything I had previously done for the organization, I was no longer needed and, perhaps, no longer wanted. Again, that’s pretty much how it felt.

For those, and many other, reasons I accepted the severance package they offered after some little deliberation and a lot more financial analysis to see just how tenable my position would be. I have often referred to their offer as a gold-leafed handshake; not exactly gold-plated and hardly a golden handshake. It amounted to about a half year’s salary. Fortunately, my wife and I had scrupulously saved and forsaken a lot of things we might otherwise have spent money on over the years in order to build up a reasonably large nest egg. With the knowledge it would be years before we had to sell the house and live out of our vehicles, and knowing the skills and capabilities I possessed stood me well in the business community, I took the plunge and accepted the offer.

Shortly after leaving I started looking around for the possibility of finding an organization that could use my services and wasn’t in the position my previous company was in; that is, they were hiring rather than laying off. I posted a few resumes with some very large companies and was even asked to apply for a position with a very large tech company that provided many of the tools – or types of tools – I had been learning and evangelizing at my previous place of employment. Unfortunately, nothing panned out and I didn’t much feel like spending more time than necessary beating my head against a wall, especially given the continuing deterioration of the economy.

Mind If We Stay In Touch?

Now, I’ve written before about the need – as I see it – for companies such as the one I retired from to stay in touch with former employees. I had proposed a method of doing so at least seven years ago when I suggested we provide access to our internal expertise location/sharing tool (an early, proprietary social media tool) for retirees who wished to remain engaged on an as-needed basis after they left. It seemed a small investment to make and I knew there were lots of former employees who, despite their retirement, would have welcomed being asked to throw in their two-cents worth on an important issue. We made rocket engines, for crying out loud, and our engines had propelled virtually every American astronaut since the very beginning of the Mercury project. Nobody I knew really wanted to totally stop being a part of that kind of awesomeness.

Needless to say, my proposal fell on deaf ears. Ironically, although the aerospace industry designs and manufactures some of the most technologically advanced products in the world (in our case, the Space Shuttle Main Engine, numerous other rocket engines, and some pretty cool energy products involving what we called “extreme engineering“), their embrace of computer technology is almost always way behind the curve. This is not necessarily so in terms of engineering computing, but is most definitely the case when it comes to business processes and internal communications. It was a source of mildly aggravating bemusement for over twenty years, but more of that at a later date.

Back To The Grind . . . Eventually

Back to this ongoing communications thing. I have come to realize, despite the over two decades I spent at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, my departure has made me completely transparent to the company. Many of the people I used to talk with daily, even those who are Facebook friends, haven’t said word one to me. I guess it’s kind of a cultural thing. Once you’ve retired and are presumably out of the workforce, you just don’t exist anymore. Unless, of course, I were to play golf with the company golf club. Then, at least for the duration of the game and the drinking afterward, I would exist in perpetuity. There are, as well, a few notable exceptions. Several people with whom I worked closely have remained in contact with me and I am deeply appreciative of our ongoing relationships.

Speaking of cultural mores, I suppose this is a logical extension of how we treat older people in general. We are, after all, a culture that exalts youth and all of its frivolity and mundane inanity. I suppose I should have known this would happen and, truth to tell, I’ve really been enjoying this retirement thing. I know it can’t last; we don’t really have enough money to maintain a decent standard of living and still be able to send our two young girls to college in 8 and 11 years from now. However, I’m just about ready to return to working at something that will take close to a full-time effort. Right now, though, I still feel a bit like the Invisible Man.

Photo shamelessly linked from Monsterland


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