Tag Archives: Rocketdyne

Why You Don’t Want to Retire

When I joined the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at what was then Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division, I had never heard the men in my life use the word “retirement.” The reason; they were mostly small businessmen who expected to work until they dropped dead. And that’s exactly what happened to every one of them.

At Rocketdyne, however, it seemed everyone I worked with talked incessantly about retirement. They also talked a lot about what they’d do if they won the lottery, but that’s another story.

A year later, I secured a position as a regular employee (I had been a temp; what they called a “job shopper”) and had to make decisions regarding my future retirement. Most notable of those decisions was whether or not to participate in the company’s 401K program. At the time, the decision was a no-brainer. The company matched employee contributions dollar for dollar, up to 8% of one’s gross income. It was a way to save up a fair amount of money as a nest egg.

Even so, I never saw myself as retiring; I felt I needed to work at something until I either died or was so infirm or incapacitated I wouldn’t be capable of anything useful. I fully expected to work at Rocketdyne until I was at least eighty, despite the fact I had little reason to believe I would live that long.

I ended up leaving what by that time was United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne division. That was over seven years ago and I’m still not retired. I don’t expect I ever will retire and, frankly, the concept still means little to me. I do, however, enjoy some retirement income from that original 401K, as well as a small pension and social security. It’s not enough for me to stop working, but I really don’t want to stop. Here’s why.

Yesterday, Jeremiah Owyang posted a graphic on Facebook that caught my eye. It depicts a Japanese concept called Ikigai, which the people who live in Okinawa, Japan live — and live long — by. The concept translates roughly into “the reason you get out of bed in the morning.” It makes an interesting Venn diagram, as you can see below.


The “Sweet Spot” Most All of us Would Like to Achieve

I shared his post with the following comment:

I believe I’ve hit this sweet spot a couple of times in my life, most notably when I worked on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program. I’m pretty close to it now as well, working with Quantellia and machine learning. How about you?

A few of my former colleagues chimed in and one of them actually found the original article in which the graphic had appeared. It’s short and not that old. The title is “Why North Americans should consider dumping age-old retirement.” You can find it here if you’d care to read it.

This is what I think we should all strive for. This is the kind of balance that brings peace of mind and contentment. I’m lucky to have experienced Ikigai in much of my work life. In explanation of how I felt I was working on “What the world needs,” I later commented:

I should point out, especially, I believe we need to establish not merely a scientific outpost off-planet, but a cultural outpost as well. I have no doubt Earth will experience an ELE someday and we need to get established elsewhere, if for no other reason than to repopulate the Earth after such an event, and have a leg up recalling all that we’d accomplished until that unfortunate event. Perhaps we’ll be able to divert any asteroids or comets we discover heading our way, and such a place won’t be necessary, but there’s no way to be completely sure of our ability to avoid catastrophe. I, therefore, felt it was somewhat of a sacred duty to play whatever small role I could to get humans into space. It’s why the cancellation of the Shuttle program – when there was nothing in the pipeline to replace it – was so disconcerting to me. It was a big reason I accepted an early severance package offered to all employees over 60 (I was almost 63 when they made it).

Now, over seven years since my “retirement”, I’m still fortunate to be working on something I believe the world needs (though there’s considerable dispute over whether it will destroy us in the long run). The only place I fall short is in the area of doing what I’m good at. This is because I’m not a data scientist or a designer or programmer. I am, however, a reasonably good salesman and have other skills I’m bringing to bear on my work with Quantellia. I expect my studies and experiences will fill up this hole reasonably soon.

I do believe everyone should be able to approach Ikigai. There is much the world needs and, despite the predicted crisis expected when the machines take over the world and millions of jobs disappear, there will still be lots we can do to lead fulfilling lives. I am a supporter of universal basic income (UBI) and find Jeremiah’s closing words from his Facebook post instructive:

Soon, automation will disrupt Ikigai, in the looming Autonomous World, and we’ll need to reset what our “reason for being” is.

I’m betting that we’ll accept the imperfect arts, humanities, and engage in wellness and fitness for longevity.

I happen to go along with those who believe UBI will unleash creativity and entrepreneurship, though I recognize the pitfalls it may present as well. Regardless, there is a looming crisis and, frankly, my current efforts in selling machine learning services and products, is accelerating it. I doubt we can step back from the cliff, so it may be time to give everyone a kind of “golden parachute”; at least one sufficient to allow them a soft landing when that crisis arrives.


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.

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.

Enjoying an Embarrassment of Riches

You know that saying, “When it rains, it pours”? Well, I believe it’s starting to rain for me and it’s threatening to turn into a downpour. Since my retirement from Rocketdyne over four and a half years ago (really?), I’ve tried various methods of earning enough extra money to keep from depleting our savings. I haven’t been all that successful, though I’ve just about stopped the bleeding thanks to the ACA, solar panels, some re-balancing of assets, etc.

The latest thing I had been working on was earning some money as a proofreader or an editor or even a writer. I’ve done several things I’m quite proud of, two of them being proofreading Age of Context, with Shel Israel and Robert Scoble, and doing some editing for Dan Keldsen’s book, co-authored with Thomas M Koulopoulos, The Gen Z Effect. I also did some research and writing with Lorien Pratt and Mark Zangari of Quantellia, most notably a paper on the Carter Center’s Community Justice Advisor program in Liberia.  I’m in the first footnote.

I have also had the good fortune to work a little with Marcia Conner and, recently, she asked me if I would help her revise the book she co-authored with Tony Bingham, president and CEO of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), formerly ASTD, The New Social Learning. I haven’t said anything because we were waiting for a contract from the publisher. That has happened and I’m beginning my efforts.

Multi-tasking man

This is Going to be Fun . . . and a Real Test!

As far as the downpour is concerned, I also just got a job writing a paper (sort of a cross between a white paper and a trade study) on a cloud-based Earned Value Management System and its competitors. Additionally, since I never knew where my next gig would come from, I took advantage of what I thought was a slim, but conceivable, chance I could now return to Rocketdyne as a temp doing whatever-the-hell they want me to. I just received notification that the requisition my former colleague requested for bringing me in has been approved, though there’s still some hoops to jump through, I’m sure.

Nevertheless, it would seem I am now suffering from an embarrassment of riches. I will, of course, honor my previous commitments, so I’m hopeful Rocketdyne will be flexible enough to allow me to do that. I have said I don’t want a full-time job and my goal is not to return as an employee, but I would like to be on their short-list of people who they can count on.

I am really excited about working on the book with Marcia. As I said, we’ve worked together some before and I believe we both enjoyed it immensely, even though we live on opposite coasts. I know I learn a lot merely from the process of collaborating virtually.

PS – I’m also still expecting to be an adjunct professor of business communications at USC’s Marshall School of Business next fall.

Six Ways To Avoid Using Lists

Does Retirement Mean "Used Up"?

Does Retirement Mean “Used Up”?

OK — I’m lying about the six ways and the lists. I couldn’t help myself. I had just been perusing the Pulse articles available on LinkedIn and was amused by how many of them contain lists, e.g. “7 Ways Leaders Fail”, “The 8 Simple Rules Of Expert Negotiation”, “3 Traits Shared By Companies And Hoarders”, “The four types of clients you should fire immediately”, “12 Email Marketing Credibility Boosters”, etc., etc., etc. I could go on for some time, but I won’t bore you as much as I was. I know I’ve read somewhere that lists are a great way to create posts and get people to read them. Nevertheless, I tend to shy away from using that strategy because it seems so formulaic to me, and I’m not interested in taking that route.

I know I should have written this earlier today but, as I’ve noted numerous times before, I’m not a journalist and I don’t do this as a business, so I have never been all that interested in an editorial calendar or lining up my posts perfectly with anything in particular. Nevertheless, today is a bit of a milestone and I thought I should mark it with a bit of possibly rational blather.

It’s been exactly — datewise — four and one-half years since I retired from Rocketdyne, where I labored for approximately 23 years. My last day (though, to tell the truth, I had been working at home and nobody expected much from me for the final two weeks I was officially “there”) was May 14, 2010. I can still vividly recall my final moments; being walked to the guard at the front reception area, handing in my badge, saying goodbye and shaking hands with my Manager, and walking out the door knowing I could not walk back in beyond the reception area without an escort.

I felt both elation and sadness. I threw my arms up in the air, but had tears in my eyes. Both emotions were warranted, as the last four and a half years have made quite clear. It’s not an easy thing walking away from a large group of people who you’ve come to think of as almost family and, make no mistake about it, once the main thing you have in common with them is gone, most people essentially disappear from your life forever.

Blogging on the beach

Blogging on the beach, something I’ve never actually done

For me, this has been the hardest part of retirement. While I’ve stayed in touch with a few of my former colleagues, some of whom remained and others who became casualties of our nation’s decision to essentially forget about space exploration (at least manned space exploration) for what still seems like forever, the majority of people I saw on a regular basis I have not heard from again. There’s also a sort of mid-range group who I’ve connected with via Facebook and LinkedIn, but I’ve had little contact with most of them.

I think this is a big problem with our entire concept of retirement. In our culture it seems once you retire, you might as well be dead. The place you worked at has no use for you and, since we are also a culture that celebrates youth and fears old age and death, nobody really wants to know what you’re doing. A possible exception is made for those people who worked at one company all, or almost all, of their life and, consequently, retire with enough money to not have to do anything to supplement their income. Remaining employees do seem to enjoy receiving the occasional postcard from an exotic location, or another reminder of what they, someday, may be able to do as well.

I’m sure there are those who thoroughly enjoy hanging out and doing whatever they want, or nothing at all. I’m not one of them. Bottom line, I guess, is this. I have managed to survive relatively well, though I have yet to find a way to supplement my income such that we’ll be reasonably comfortable for the foreseeable future. I do worry about what might happen in a few years when our income suffers from inflation or some disease or unfortunate turn of events depletes what little savings and investments remain.

I also worry about my physical and mental ability to generate income. At 67 years old, it’s difficult to not notice I’m gaining speed on that inevitable slide down life’s rollercoaster. Nevertheless, I’m not one for fretting too much about choices I’ve made. I’ve been characterized by others as a survivor; one who will find a way to make things happen. Especially when push comes to shove and I’m backed into a corner. I don’t actually want to reach that point, so I’m working on quite a few prospects and avenues.

In another six months it will have been half a decade since I left the place I had been at longer than anywhere save this planet. I’m looking forward to celebrating that occasion a little more energetically. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to afford throwing a little party for some of those former colleagues who remain friends. That would be a hoot.

All Hail The Beneficent, Ubiquitous Keyboard

There’s a little sort of game going on in Facebook lately. Someone is challenged to list three things they’re thankful for for seven days, at the same time tagging a friend each day (or something like that) to do the same. I haven’t been asked to do it, and I have no plans of doing it either, as it just seems too spread out and broad to do justice to the recognition of those things we might be thankful for. Nevertheless, it does give me pause and I have been thinking about what I would say should I choose one or two specific things for which I’m thankful. There is one seemingly mundane thing that keeps popping into my head. My ability to type.

I can’t imagine how different my world would be if I had to use what an old girlfriend of mine called the “search and destroy” method of typing. Most people use the more pastoral term “hunt and peck”, but she spent several tours with the USO in Vietnam and her life was colored by her exposure to that war, the military, and her involvement in the movement to end it. If I were hampered by that inability, my social presence and my ability to communicate would be virtually non-existent.

I was fortunate. In Junior High School I took a typing class; instead of what I haven’t the faintest, but I recall it seeming to be the most useful option at the time. As a result, I learned to touch type. Later on, when I was in Law School, I secured a position as a legal secretary for a sole practitioner who did a lot of contract and property damage work for several of the largest car rental agencies in the country. We were very busy and my workload was challenging enough that my speed increased. I’ve never been as prolific as the best, but I was up to a little over 80 wpm, with few if any errors. That’s not quite as fast as the average person can speak, but it’s a respectable clip.

IBM Memory Typewriter

The IBM Memory Typewriter

The job turned out to be a major turning point in my life, as I was introduced to the early stages of office computing and word processing. We ended up getting an IBM Memory Typewriter, the one built on the correcting Selectric, but with a dial providing memory for 50 separate pages. We moved up shortly to an Artec Display 2000, which used two 8″ floppies and had a scrolling display of approximately 30 characters. I don’t remember if it was LED or LCD, but the characters were red. We used it for pleadings, and wills and trusts.

Back to typing speed and how critical it is to communication in today’s world. I don’t really have to imagine what it would be like, because I had an experience with a colleague that pointed it out rather clearly, though it took months for me to recognize what was happening. I was working with the Director of our newly formed Program Management Office at what was then the Rocketdyne Power & Propulsion business unit of The Boeing Company. We were at almost opposite ends of the main office building in Canoga Park and I was upstairs in what was called The Annex. The distance between his office and my cubesickle was around 400 yards; not a huge distance, but it took time to walk back and forth. Plus it meant passing through the Executive Office area and there were always distractions.

I can’t recall the exact dates, but it was very early in our use of Instant Messenger; so early that I had to point out its value, as most of the older staff (which meant all of the Executives) perceived it as only a toy their kids used to communicate with each other. I kept sending IMs to this Director, but he never answered them, nor did he respond in anything resembling a timely manner to emails, so I was forced to walk to his office repeatedly during the day.

It wasn’t until a couple of months had passed that I happened to be sitting with him in his office and he was answering an email. Watching him type . . . ever so slowly and painfully . . . made it clear why he never responded to me. He had to hunt anew for each letter and, with his two index fingers, peck them out in a long, excruciatingly difficult session. He clearly hated it. I know I was cringing as I watched. I never sent him an IM after that day.

I’m thinking the ability to type is one of those essential tools we seldom think about — perhaps take for granted — without which our world would be far less rich and fulfilling. I can type this post, tweet, post to Facebook, engage in lengthy, spirited debates with dozens of widely dispersed people, and participate in a plethora of other forms of communication or collaboration relatively easily, all because of my ability to type quickly and accurately. I imagine this is true for almost all, if not all, of my friends and acquaintances.

For this I am deeply thankful.

It Doesn’t Take a Rocket Scientist

Crosswalk Button

This is a switch, not a pump!

I saw a video yesterday of a dog figuring out how to drink from a device set on the ground. It had to be stepped on and held down, but the dog would stomp on it a few times before finally standing on it to keep the water flowing. It reminded me of one of my favorite stories.

Many years ago, when I first started working at Rocketdyne, we had a couple of buildings on the other side of Canoga Ave. from the main office and factory structure. People were always having to cross the street and there was a controlled crosswalk there for that purpose. I was always amazed to find engineers repeatedly pushing the button (like this dog’s doing) to get the light to change.

I kept thinking – though I never said it out loud – “you know that’s a switch, not a pump.” It might be expected of the dog; but, rocket scientists? Maybe they were accountants.

It’s OK, Beth. We’ll Carry On From Here

Beth Thompson

Farewell, Beth. You touched a lot of lives and will be sorely missed

I posted the following on Facebook two days ago and I want to share it here as a tribute to my friend and former colleague:

I am beside myself with grief. A couple hours ago I received a message from a friend who wanted to confirm what he had heard – that our former colleague and good friend, Beth Thompson, had passed away. I started frantically contacting as many people as I could think of, all the while hoping it was just some stupid Internet screwup. It was not to be. Apparently, while preparing to leave for work this morning, Beth suffered a heart attack and passed.

Beth was one of my first friends when I joined the Program Office on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at Rocketdyne. Her good humor and iconoclastic attitude helped me ease into the corporate world, a world I didn’t join until I was 40 years old, and was ill-suited for. Along with many others I’m proud and happy to still call good friends, Beth was family. I still have the card she picked out for me and had everyone sign when I left for what turned out to be a short stint back in my family’s business. That was about 17 or 18 years ago.

She moved up to the Seattle area with her husband, Paul, and their three children, where she continued to work for Boeing, one of several major players that passed Rocketdyne around like a financial hot potato. This is tough to digest. My kids have seen me cry for the first time in their memory. People who are younger than you aren’t supposed to die before you do. It’s just not right.

We hardly saw each other in the past few years, but we liked and commented on each other’s FB posts now and again. At least I knew she was there and I got to see a little bit of her life and happiness. That is now gone and my world is poorer for it. Goodbye, Beth. I love you and will always remember how you brightened my world and the world of so many others.

Serendipity Runs Circles Around Causality

Funny how some things seem — given enough time — to come full circle. Although I have always seen patterns and complexity, as well as the intricacies of their interplay, I wasn’t introduced to the concept of Systems Thinking until I worked on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at (what was then) Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division. That introduction included being exposed to the thinking of Dr. Russell Ackoff, a recognized authority in the field. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him, twice in Philadelphia, prior to his death in October of 2009.

Shortly after retiring from Rocketdyne in 2010, I was introduced to Dr. Lorien Pratt of Quantellia, LLC, who showed me a tool her organization had developed called World Modeler. I was excited at what I saw and hopeful I could somehow become involved with Dr. Pratt and her team. However, that was not to be at the time. I was provided the opportunity to more thoroughly investigate the tool, but I had made a conscious choice to refamiliarize myself with Apple products (after over two decades of living in the PC, DOS, and Windows environment) and World Modeler was not written to be run on a Mac. Furthermore, the PC laptop I had wasn’t powerful enough to do the math and drive the graphics required for running models in real time. I was hosed.

Decision Intelligence Technologies

Decision Intelligence Technologies

Finally, about six months ago I was contacted by Dr. Pratt, who asked me if I wanted to assist in writing a paper that described an effort in which they were involved with the Carter Center. I enthusiastically said “Yes!” I’ve done a couple of other things with Quantellia since then but, beginning a few weeks ago, I took on an entirely new and (for me) exciting role as a referral partner.

Right now I’m spending a fair amount of time learning Decision Science in general, and the process and tools Quantellia uses to help organizations understand complex interrelationships and make better decisions based on that understanding. As I’m doing this I watch videos, read blogs and articles, look for original research, and work on presentations that will help me educate others in this important approach to business and organizational operations.

So . . . here’s the full circle part. As I’m looking for definitions, or explanations, of Decision Science and its origins, I Google the term. The first two hits I get are to The Decision Sciences Institute and to Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Social and Decision Sciences. The third link is to a Wikipedia article on that same Department. In that article, there’s a link to Decision Science, specifically. However, it redirects to an article on Operations Research, which is where Systems Thinking originated. At the bottom of the page is a list of researchers under the heading “See Also”. One of the researchers, unsurprisingly, is Russell L. Ackoff. To me, that’s a combination of serendipity and years of working on better understanding how an understanding of systems can work to the benefit of any organization; actually, anyone.

I’ll be writing a lot more about Decision Science, including my understanding of some of its constituent parts, Decision Intelligence, Decision Engineering, Decision Modeling, and the power and value of our tools, World Modeler and DEEPM (Decision Engineering for Enterprise Project Management). I hope I will be able to clearly explain what it is we have to offer and, more importantly, what everyone has to gain by understanding it. The value exists independently of me or even Quantellia. We’ve just been at it for a while and can apply and employ the discipline both efficiently and effectively. Stay tuned.

Seen a Spaceship Lately?

Have you ever watched the International Space Station pass by in orbit? I don’t know about you, but there’s something majestic, even magical for me just watching it fly overhead. A bright object moving at nearly 5 miles a second appears very fast, even at a distance of hundreds of miles away, and it is awe-inspiring to look up and know there are humans aboard. Several years ago I remember seeing the Station, a Soyuz capsule, and the Space Shuttle all pass overhead as they moved toward a rendezvous and docking. During that mission there were something like a dozen people silently flying by far above my house.

Since my retirement from Rocketdyne, and the cancellation of the Shuttle program, my interest has drifted away some. After all, there’s nothing quite like watching a large, powerful vehicle’s engines roar to life and lift it off the pad into orbit in less than ten minutes. The Station is almost invisible by those standards. It’s already up there and it’s passage is almost mundane. There’s no smoke and fire. It’s swift, but it’s silent.

Recently, I decided to add an app to my phone so I could find out when the Station was flying overhead. Not sure why my interest returned, but it did. The app I chose is called ISS Spotter. It’s free and has everything I need to observe the station. Here are the three views I use the most, though there are settings and a help screen available as well. The first one shows the Stations position and direction of travel (along the thick yellow line) from above and against a map of Earth. It also shows (the blue dot) your location; in this case, near Los Angeles. It has a couple of other bits of functionality, but they’re not relevant to this post.

Orbital map of ISS

Map shows current orbital position in real time

The second view shows upcoming passes over your location (which, btw, it determines automatically using your phone’s GPS, though you can also customize it on the setting page [not shown] if you know your coordinates [and you care]). I use the auto setting and it works just fine. It even adjusts if I’m somewhere else. There are other settings available for time prior to passage for alarms, minimum peak elevations, and others. There’s also a star rating to help you decide how much effort you may want to exert getting outside to view the pass. One star means a pass you might find meh, while three stars indicates even the Magi might be impressed. Note, the next one I’m planning on getting outside for has two stars. As you can see on this page, it will be at a visible altitude (at its highest) of 68° and will shine at a magnitude (visible on the third view, below) of -2.9.

ISS pass notification and alarms

Automatic listing of visible passes in next 7 days with settable alarms

The third view provides everything you need to know to actually find the station, even if you don’t make it out when it first appears. You can also see here that this pass will last a total of six minutes and thirty-eight seconds. Plenty of time to freeze your ass off if you’re anywhere affected by the Polar Vortex, which I’m not.

Compass view of Forecast Screen

Compass view provides direction, maximum elevation, magnitude, and more

I had forgotten, but I got an alarm this morning just in time to go out around 0630 and watch it pass. There were two things that struck me as I stood out in the backyard. When I first spotted it, the Station was well out over the Pacific and, minutes later, it was well over Nevada as I went back inside. In the approximately three minutes I spent observing, that orbiting outpost of humanity and science traveled nearly a thousand miles. The other thing, and it happens every time I observe it silently passing by overhead, was I could swear I was able to make out her warp nacelles.

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