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 had one of those timeless moments this evening. I was on my way to pick up my vehicle, which needed some work due to a safety recall. The Honda dealership was kind enough to provide me with a creature comfort-laden Nissan Pathfinder, which I happily drove to work from the Enterprise office, and was to return to the Honda dealer, where I was headed, on the way home.
I had just exited California 118 (the Ronald Reagan freeway) at 1st Street in Simi, turning south to the dealership about a quarter mile away. As I was crossing over the freeway, the light was red and I was stopped at the apex of the arched overpass. The entire perimeter of the sky was filled with soft pink clouds, and there was a long golden streamer of cloud radiating eastward, driven by the last rays of the setting Sun. As I looked from west to east, the clouds and the edges of the sky faded from a bright to a soft pastel pink.
In the sky to the east hung an almost full Moon, its glow softened by a thin layer of clouds, and to the West a long, steady stream of vehicles moved steadily toward their destinations, their headlights forming a brilliant necklace of light. I wanted to take a picture, but a panorama would have taken time I didn’t think I had. I looked through hundreds of pink sunset pictures I googled, hoping to find something at least evocative, but nothing felt right, so I have nothing but my memory . . . and the experience.
The whole moment lasted about 10 seconds, but it was extraordinarily beautiful and felt timeless. It wasn’t all that different from some other similar experiences; after all, it was just a sunset, the Moon (yawn), and moderate freeway traffic, yet it felt eternal (for a moment 🙂 ). Weird, huh?
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.
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.
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 Rockwell 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?
The other day a friend of mine posted an interesting item on his blog, Global Neighbourhoods (love that other side of the pond spelling) and asked on Twitter if anyone had read it. I saw the tweet because it was ported over to my Facebook news feed. I answered I hadn’t, but would shortly . . . which I did. Shel makes an interesting point that, regardless of how one may feel about Newt Gingrich – and we both agree we wouldn’t vote for him even if Hell froze over – his idea about establishing a colony on the Moon isn’t such a bad one. Consider that President Kennedy’s call to put a man on the Moon preceded an unprecedented growth in innovation through the technologies that needed to be developed in order to accomplish the feat required by the Apollo program.
Shel goes on to ask that we think about what such an endeavor might mean for us, regardless of the situation we are in right now. As he says:
“It seems to me, that what makes us unique from other animals is that our entire history is based on going beyond what we have done. Before we consider the benefits or catastrophes, we simply have to see if we can do it.
“Why should man walk on the moon? Because some day, we can build a colony on it? What will we do then? Look around and see what else we can do, where else we can go, we can learn more about the moon, and thus about the earth and our universe and how life got to here and anywhere else that it might exist.
“And yes the cost is huge at a time when people are losing their homes. But to me, the cost is an investment, one that will create a great many new jobs that may be more appealing than the manufacturing our current president seems to be focused upon.
“What we learn along the way will give the world new technology that is likely to pervade into computing, science, medicine, earth sciences, the classroom and places that we cannot yet imagine.”
I responded the next day in a comment. As of the date of this posting, it still says it’s waiting moderation but, hopefully, by the time most read this it will have been posted. Suffice it to say I agree with Shel’s assessment of the technologies it will create and that it is an investment. I also have another, long-standing reason I believe we should go back to the Moon and establish a permanent presence there, which I have set forth in my comment. I have also written about it several times in various posts on this blog. I encourage you to read Shel’s post. Tell him I sent you.
For an atheist such as myself, the closest I come to having a religious experience is usually associated with some sort of spectacular natural event; something that makes it clear to me just how awesome the Universe is. This morning was one of those times. I got up at 4:45 am to watch the last total eclipse of the Moon until some time in 2014. It was well worth getting out of my warm bed to do so.
I took out a pair of low-power binoculars and two cameras. I hand-held my Canon EOS 10D and mounted my wife’s 50D on a tripod. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to learn how to set up the auto shutter release on her camera and, when the Moon entered totality there just wasn’t enough light to get a shot without using a long exposure. I got some decent pictures as the Earth’s penumbra slowly moved across the lunar surface and I’m hopeful they’re better than I expect. My eyesight is slowly dwindling and it’s difficult for me to tell if things are truly in proper focus. I’ll check them out later when I take the time to upload them from the card on which they now reside.
Nevertheless, as I watched our nearby satellite slowly fall behind our planet’s shadow, I was mesmerized by the thought of how enormous the three celestial bodies involved in this display are – compared to us – and how insignificant the whole show is in relationship to the rest of the Universe. I find these events incredibly awe-inspiring and am always humbled when I contemplate their scale. Think about it. The Moon is approximately two days away at the greatest speeds we’ve been able to achieve. It’s only about two light-seconds away. Our galaxy (The Milky Way) is approximately 100,000 light years in diameter and contains, perhaps, as many a 200 Billion stars. Current estimates put the number of Galaxies in the Universe at up to 500 Billion! That makes for an awful lot of stars.
The sure knowledge that I may be incredibly important to my wife and my children (not to mention me, myself, and I), but I really don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things is damn near paralyzing in its implications. Somehow, though, I have managed to meander fairly meaningfully through my life. I’m grateful for that!
The best views I got were with my small, 8-power binoculars I chose as a service award when I worked for The Boeing Company at what is now Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’ve had them quite some time and they do come in handy on occasion. I watched until the Moon was just about to disappear behind a tree, though distant, high, wispy clouds had pretty much obscured my view.
I also woke my 10-year-old, put my jacket on her, and carried her outside so she could see it. Last night she was anxious to view an eclipse of the Moon, but this morning was a slightly different story. So she got to see it, then got to go right back to sleep. Hope she remembers. I know I will.
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.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.