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.
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.
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’.
A little over ten years ago, a group of people who were students or admirers of W. Edwards Deming decided to create an event that would honor the teachings of Dr. Deming here on the West coast. I am not privy to all the details of its genesis and they aren’t really all that necessary to this post, but I do want to provide a bit of context, as I’ve never before written about this event in this venue.
I’m bringing it up now because I attended this year’s In2:InThinking Forum for the first time since leaving Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne nearly two years ago. It’s funny, but I couldn’t remember whether or not I attended the Forum in 2010. However, I just checked and . . . not only did I attend, I co-presented a three hour session with Professor John Pourdehnad of UPenn entitled “Emerging Social Software Platforms – How & Why Emergence and Adaptability Increase our Common Understanding”. I’m not sure what that says about my priorities, or my memory, though having looked it up I can now recall the session somewhat vividly. 🙁
I stopped attending for several reasons, not the least of which was I had to start paying for it out of my own pocket. I’m essentially of the opinion now that I should have continued to attend, despite the extra expense, but I guess I wasn’t thinking all that clearly for the last couple of years. It is not an exaggeration to point out my “retirement” has knocked me for more of a loop than I anticipated when first I decided to accept the severance package offered to all employees who were 60 or over, back in the first quarter of 2010.
There were numerous reasons – besides the cost – I made the choice to not go in 2010 and, again, they were likely pretty stupid or silly, but that’s spilled milk under the bridge 🙂 . Suffice it to say I’m very glad I went this year. Among other things, I got to meet, talk to, and have a picture taken with the Dean of the United States Military Academy, West Point, Brigadier General Tim Trainor.
General Trainor gave Saturday morning’s keynote address and responded to questions afterward. One of the questions was from my friend Steve Brant. Frankly, I don’t remember his question but I do remember the answer included a somewhat sheepish apology for injecting a sliver of politics. It was this apology I addressed with him afterward when we had a moment to speak.
What I said to him was, essentially, that I thought it was time to start talking a little more politically; not in support of any politician or specific policy, but more in an effort to build dialogue and respect for diverse opinions. Unfortunately, discourse in this country has sunk to the level of pig-headed name calling and the delusional belief there is only one answer to any question (and it’s mine). This is a recipe for disaster, especially the latter belief, in any endeavor and surely with respect to the national discourse.
And though I hope I might have the chance to discuss it again with him (hopefully on [his] campus 🙂 ), and I will write about this subject again as well – probably numerous times – it’s not the point I wanted to convey here. That’s far simpler and less contentious, I think.
Look Ma. No Nozzle!
I attended an all-day, pre-forum workshop based on Barry Oshry’sOrganizational Workshop. It was the third time I’d attended this workshop and it was led by a former colleague and dear friend. There were several other sessions conducted that day and we all started out together in the Leadership and Learning Center* at PWR’s Canoga Ave. campus. One of the participants/presenters was Col. (Ret) Debra M. Lewis and, just before we split up into our separate groups for the day’s activities, she said something that stuck with me the rest of the weekend.
She pointed out that, unlike many other conferences, forums, seminars, symposia, etc. she had attended, her being a little late wasn’t met with anything other than warm welcomes, hugs, and appreciation for her presence. As I said, that comment stuck with me and, when she and her husband LtCol (Ret) Douglass S. Adams shared their experiences on their year-long Duty Honor America Tour, I realized how much I had missed out on by not attending last year and by not remaining in touch with my former colleagues and so many friends I had grown close to over a career that spanned a little over 23 years.
As well, it reminded me these are very special people. There is no person who makes it to the In2:InThinking Forums who hasn’t become aware of the systemic nature of organizations and life itself. Every one of them is also a kind and compassionate soul who cares about the impact they have on their places of work, their families, and their communities. None of them are there primarily to sell a product or service. They come to share. If they’ve written a book they bring some, but it’s not their primary purpose. These are leaders and teachers. I’m very lucky to have been a part of the journey with them, and now look forward to many more years of positive engagement.
I’m also slowly realizing the process of “retiring”, which has entailed an awful lot of refocusing and not a little concern over how long I’ll remain sharp and capable, has affected me far more deeply and in more ways than I apparently cared to think about. So . . . my journey continues and I look forward to gaining a more clear understanding of how I’m coping and what I intend to do to make things interesting and productive. Reflection is good, don’t you think?
* It’s worthy to note this center contains, both within and just outside in a patio area, a rather large collection of rocket engines and the parts from even more, including some very historical engines. Among these are the SSME, J-2, RS-68, both an annular and a linear Aerospike, and a SNAP-10A nuclear reactor (minus the fuel).
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.