Tag Archives: Space Shuttle

Bye Bye Twitter?

I first joined Twitter in March of 2006. At the time part of my job at Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power, a division of The Boeing Company, was to examine platforms described as examples of what was then referred to as Web 2.0, as well as new applications being referred to as “social media.” I was doing this as a member of the Knowledge Management team for the division, and as the Knowledge Management lead for the Space Shuttle Main Engine team.

In 2002, I had been leading the team that introduced one of the earliest “social media” applications to the SSME team and the organization as a whole. We didn’t think of it as social media at the time, however. Our main goal was to provide a tool (we called it an “enabler”) that made it easier to locate subject matter experts (SMEs) and facilitate not only communication between those seeking knowledge and those possessing it, but to capture that knowledge and make it easily accessible for others who might need it at a later date.

The name of the tool we purchased 1000 seats for was AskMe Enterprise. It was, if memory serves, based on a former website of the same name, but was now a proprietary tool meant to stay within the firewall of an organization. Rocketdyne needed something that would be useful internally and had no reason to use something that was open outside the organization’s firewall. In fact, given the nature of its products being open to the outside was anathema and a matter of national security.

At the same time, we were looking for a communications tool that provided one-to-many capabilities and short-form text sharing and publishing. There were several tools that were coming online around that time, including Jive and Yammer, but Twitter seemed to be the most interesting. Nevertheless, it took me something like six months before I could identify a use case for it. At the time it seemed merely a tool for non-productive jabber and gossip.

What changed it for me was when I found out the team preparing the Space Shuttle Orbiter for the next launch was using it to communicate their activities and progress. There were something like two dozen people who were working on various tasks that were independent in numerous different ways. If you’ve ever done project management, especially if you’ve used a tool like Microsoft Project, you know there are several types of dependencies between activities, e.g. finish-to-start (the most common). The Orbiter team, much like many of the teams that organizations (not just Rocketdyne) have to accomplish their work, would meet every morning to present progress and discuss how to proceed with remaining activities.

Twitter changed the dynamic significantly. Now, instead of waiting until the team gathered each morning, team members who were out in the field accomplishing tasks could communicate in real-time with their colleagues (all of them) when they had finished a task which was a predecessor to another team member’s task. All they had to do was Tweet. They didn’t have to compose an email, direct an IM to two dozen people, or make a phone call. They just had to follow each of their teammates.

This may seem a trivial thing, but if a predecessor task was completed at, say, two in the afternoon and that fact could be communicated to the entire team, anyone who needed that information to know where they stood in the flow of activities didn’t have to wait until the following morning stand-up to find out what their status was. Work on complicated engineering projects can be expensive and even apparently small savings of time could add up to saving tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.

So, that was my introduction to Twitter. I never could get my colleagues at Rocketdyne to use it. I had a hard enough time getting them to use AskMe and soon after I accepted an early severance package in May of 2010 (as the Shuttle program was coming to an end) it became obvious without my constant agitating for its use it wasn’t going to survive. It didn’t.

However, I kept a kind of love/hate relationship with Twitter over the years. There were times I didn’t pay much attention to it, and periods where I was quite active. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, after nearly a decade and a half, I was permanently suspended after I suggested a certain former guy might benefit from a coronary episode (I was only looking out for his best interests!). I created another account, which I am still using. Actually, I created two more accounts, one of which was also suspended, but reinstated upon appeal, though I no longer use it. Now, instead of @rickladd I’m @retreado.

I really wish I still had my real name, but it looks as though Twitter may not survive the petty indulgences of the world’s richest 10-year-old. Toward the end, I found Twitter to be an invaluable source of news, not so much as a primary but as a pointer to in-depth analyses, opinion, and good, solid journalism. It was a great way to keep track of trends and what movers and shakers were thinking, as well as hints as to which direction developing issues might go in. If Twitter does go away, I will miss it, but it won’t be the end of the world. I’ve already created an account at Mastodon and am considering other apps. Time will tell. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind taking a break from the immediacy and constant movement of Twitter. I’m getting old and I appreciate moments of silence more than ever.


Quantum Spirituality

I included this video in a blog post I wrote over ten years ago. In the process of compiling some of those posts, along with other material, into a memoir I encountered it again. It still moves me to tears.

I am an atheist, but I do feel a certain sense of spirituality in the universe. Not the supernatural kind, but one borne of the reality we are all (as Joni sang) stardust. We are all made of the same stuff and on a quantum level we are deeply connected. I believe this to be true though most of us are blissfully and completely unaware of it.

I was fortunate to be a member of the Space Shuttle Main Engine program for nearly a quarter century, beginning a year after Challenger was destroyed and ending a year before the Shuttle program was forever cancelled.

I have long considered it our “sacred” duty to get off this planet and establish not merely a scientific presence, but also a cultural presence in case we suffer an extinction level event. In that way we might assure ourselves the human race will continue, rebuild, and flourish. It’s a big reason I was able to stay so long on that program despite the insufferable bureaucracy of the three corporations who owned Rocketdyne during my tenure: Rockwell Int’l.; The Boeing Co.; and Pratt & Whitney/United Technologies.

I hope some of you enjoy this as much as I did.


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.


Some Personal Space Shuttle History

Thirty-four years ago next month I showed up for work at Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne Division. Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, I was familiar with Rocketdyne, as during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs the rocket engines they made, which powered the vehicles used to launch our astronauts into space, were all designed and manufactured not far from where I lived.

The factory was in Canoga Park, but the engines were tested at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, which was in the hills to the west of my home. I have vivid memories of seeing the night sky light up and hearing the roar of those engines as they were being tested. I also remember going out at night and lying down on our front lawn to watch Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite (launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957) go by overhead. I was ten years old at the time.

While these experiences didn’t cause me to pursue a career in engineering, they did serve to pique my interest in astronomy and space exploration. They also had absolutely nothing to do with my ending up working at Rocketdyne. My beginning there was entirely serendipitous. I was working for the temp agency, Apple One, where I had been temping at a hard drive manufacturer called Micropolis. Their business model, perhaps the industry itself, was somewhat seasonal and work for temps was boom and bust there. As had happened many times before (we’d heard about it and weren’t surprised when it happened) business slowed down and they decided to lay off the temps, who comprised the majority of the workforce.

That was on a Friday. That evening, my contact at Apple One called me and asked if I could show up at Rocketdyne the following Monday. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in the middle of January, 1987, almost exactly a year after OV-099, Space Shuttle Orbiter Vehicle Challenger, exploded as it was ascending to orbit, killing all seven crew members.

I was to turn 40 years old later that year and of course I would show up. I needed to work. However, that it was Rocketdyne I was to show up at was something of a bonus, as far as I was concerned. I had known people who worked at Rocketdyne over the years, and it never occurred to me I could work there. I wasn’t an Engineer or a Scientist. I didn’t even have a college education, though I did have a Juris Doctorate, which I had earned eleven years before. I was the only person in my law school without a baccalaureate. None of that mattered as a temp (or what they called a “job shopper”.) They didn’t ask anything about my background or my capabilities. They just needed a warm body who could perform data input.

So, that following Monday I showed up to work at the plant on Canoga Ave. in Canoga Park. I had never worked at a really large organization before. In fact, with the exception of the temp job I had previously been working at, I had never worked anywhere that had more than a dozen or so people. Most places I’d worked only had five or six, at the most. Rocketdyne had armed guards at the gates. There were at least four entrances guarded by men with guns. It was actually a bit heady.

I ended up hiring in a year later and worked there until May of 2010, when I accepted an early severance package offered to everyone over the age of 60. I turned 63 the next month, June. I’m writing several memoirs, and my time at Rocketdyne will play a big role in at least one of them. However, my purpose here is merely to introduce one of the “awards” I received when I worked there.

I was not a big fan of individual performance awards, believing they tended to pit people against each other when, in fact, we needed to find ways to improve our collaborative and collective abilities. This particular award was given to each of the members of the Space Shuttle Main Engine High Pressure Fuel Turbo-pump team, who labored mightily to manufacture, test, and deliver 10 additional pumps for the program when Pratt & Whitney was unable to certify their alternate design. As our contract ran out, and we knew there would be no new business, the team had to wind down and members had to find other places to hang their hats.

You should note that everyone on the team received one of these shadow boxes, with a flag, a turbine blade, several mission buttons, and these inscriptions (see below.) I’m including the back, because our managers took the time to personally thank each person on the team; there were well over fifty, if memory serves. This “award” hangs in my home office. This coming May it will have been 20 years since I received it, and I’m every bit as proud of it now as I was back then. Plus … how often do you get to have a piece of rocket engine hardware and other space memorabilia?

PS – In case you don’t get to it (it’s on the back of the shadow box) that turbine blade traveled a total of 27,600,000 miles, mostly doing nothing after MECO (Main Engine Cut Off) on each flight.

PPS – Just to be clear, in these two photos (below) I’ve superimposed the award (from the front) on a picture of a shuttle night launch. It has a glass door, which I opened because it’s reflective and I didn’t want that in the photo, and digitally removed with Photoshop. I’ve separately added the two pieces of text from the back, without including the box, and superimposed them on that same night launch photo.

Obverse of My Turbo Team Award
Reverse of My Turbo Team Award

Time Stamp!

The RS-25, aka Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME)

Just thought I should mention today (Thursday, 14 May 2020) is the 10th anniversary of my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’m still not entirely sure it was the right thing to do (accept the early severance package they offered everyone over 60) but her I yam!


quicKMemos Vol. 1 No. 2

Here’s the second issue of the KM newsletter I wrote and published for the SSME KM team. This one was for January of 2006. The middle column has a couple of decent descriptions of “Lessons Learned” and “Best Practices.” What it doesn’t address, which is something many of us came to understand later, is that we don’t actually want “Best” Practices; which implies there won’t be any room for improvement, as “best” is a superlative adjective, which means it just doesn’t get any better than best. We, therefore, preferred to talk about “Better” Practices, which also fits rather nicely into the philosophy of continuous improvement. My apologies if this is boring.


Another Newsletter

At the end of 2005, I was still five years away from accepting an early severance package from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and then retiring a couple years early. I don’t think the Shuttle program had yet been cancelled, so everything appeared to be full steam ahead. I had been deeply involved in developing the concept of Knowledge Management (KM), primarily to the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) team—for which I was the lead—as well as for the entire organization, from its ownership by Boeing to a subsequent purchase and merger with United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division.

So, there were two teams I was involved with: the corporate, enterprise-wide team, and the SSME team. I had convinced my management to start the SSME team before I knew there was a corporate team, and it was my primary focus of attention at the time. Starting in December of 2005, I published a newsletter for the team; a KM newsletter, ostensibly by the SSME KM team for the entire SSME program team.

When I returned to work for a couple of years at Rocketdyne in 2015, I was able to find pdf files of every issue of that newsletter, which we called “quicKMemos.” I’m am converting these pdf files into png files so I can upload them here. I’ll post them somewhat sporadically, no doubt, as I have several duties and obligations that are always tugging at my sleeve and demanding my attention. So . . . here’s the first one; Vol. 1 No. 1, December 2005.

NB – Check out the Eleven Deadly Sins of KM. They still seem relevant to me, though it’s hard for me to tell as it’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve been in a large enterprise environment.


Random Memorabilia

I found this piece of historical info about the—shall we call it “first half”—of the Shuttle program in one of my collections of “stuff.” Note that it ends with the Challenger disaster, which happened almost a year to the day before I was hired in (initially as a temp) at Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division, working on the document that would prepare the SSME (Space Shuttle Main Engine) for the return to flight on September 29, 1988. Note also, as engineers are wont to do, the word “Incident” is misspelled at the bottom of the sheet. Color me unsurprised. OV-105 (Orbiter Endeavour) is also not on the list at the very bottom of the page.

I don’t imagine this will be terribly interesting to anyone who isn’t a bit of a human space flight geek like me but, as I have said recently, I need to memorialize some of the things I’ve kept over the years. They may not be of value to anyone but me—hell . . . they may not even be of value to me—but I want to get them scanned or reproduced and put out into the aether, for my sanity and possible future use.


Sport of . . . Old Farts?

My father took up golf late in life and he wanted me to golf with him. I was 15 years old, which means he had to be about 38. He wanted me to golf right-handed, but I was a dominant southpaw and I refused to do it. Reluctantly, he got me a left-handed beginner’s set of clubs. I even took lessons—if memory serves, I took one lesson from Cary “Doc” Middlecoff at what was then called The Joe Kirkwood Jr. Golf Center . It was on Whitsett Ave., just North of Ventura Blvd. It’s now called Weddington Golf & Tennis. Read the second paragraph at their website’s home page for a little history on the site.

Cary “Doc” Middlecoff, somewhere near his heyday

My golfing did not last long. At 15 I had started to surf, which seemed so much more challenging at the time. Besides, golf was for old men and surfing was a young person’s sport. I gave up golf, though I hung on to the left-handed beginner’s set of clubs the old man had purchased for me. I even used them once-in-a-while to hit a bucket o’ balls.

Fast forward 31 years. I had been working at Rocketdyne for maybe three years. My first year I was a “job shopper”—a temp—working on the FMEA/CIL* document for the Space Shuttle Main Engine program, in anticipation of a return to flight after the Challenger disaster. I then was hired in as a full-time employee, working in the Fight Ops team. I was fortunate enough to be in the Rocketdyne Operational Support Center (ROSC) when Discovery lifted off from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39 on September 29, 1988.

I had helped design the layout and overall configuration of the ROSC, and being there for that launch was my reward. I didn’t know enough about the operational parameters of our engines at that time to understand exactly what I was looking at that morning, but the room was filled with displays showing engine performance as Discovery lifted off and ascended on its approximately 525 second flight to LEO.

Flight Patch for STS-26 | Return to Flight after Challenger | Space Shuttle Orbiter “Discovery” | OV-103

That evening a bunch of us went to celebrate the successful launch and our nation’s return to space flight. We were elated . . . to say the least. We went across Victory Blvd. to a restaurant called Yankee Doodles. Somehow, I got into a conversation with the person who turned out to be the Manager of the SSME’s Program Office and, once he found out what my role had been (and that I had a Juris Doctorate; a Law degree) he offered me a job. After some discussion with my current management, I decided to take it.

It wasn’t long before the team I was now on decided to have a golf tournament, and they of course wanted me to play. Not because they knew anything about my golf game (how could they?) but because they needed warm bodies to show up on the course, as well as pay for the round, prizes, and food. I was reluctant; after all it had been over 30 years since I’d actually played and, in fact, I don’t believe I had ever played on a full-size course.

I decided to give it a try. I don’t remember what I did for clubs because, by then, I had rid myself of that old beginner’s set. I remember going to Simi Hills Golf Course and hitting some balls. Honestly, I can’t quite remember where that first tournament was played, but I know I got hooked . . . bad. I had my uncle’s friend make me a set of golf clubs and I began practicing with a vengeance. I cobbled together a newsletter for the course, filling it with ridiculous and comedic stories. I showed it to the General Manager and told him I could do that for them every month.

The 18th Green at Simi Hills Golf Course

He told me to go ahead and, shortly after, I was hitting as many balls as I wanted on the range and, a bit later, going out on the course with the GM and the Head Pro – getting tips and playing lessons for free. I eventually was able to play for free as well, as long as I didn’t try to abuse the privilege by playing during peak hours. Within a fairly short time I had my index (similar to handicap) down to 12. I was well on my way to becoming a single-digit handicapper, but it was not to be.

I started having back and hip pain and, even with going to a Chiropractor and seeing my doctor about it, nothing was helping. Little did I know what was coming. Just before New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1999, I had an attack of sciatica that had my wife calling 911 to have me transported to the nearest hospital. I was on crutches for a month, and a cane for two months after that. I still experience numbness/tenderness in my left foot and don’t expect it will ever entirely heal.

Fortunately, I eventually found Robin McKenzie’s wonderful book, “Treat Your Own Back” and, after religiously doing the stretching he recommends, for weeks, I was back on the course and healing rather nicely.

Now, I don’t remember if it was before or after my back problems, but I became good friends with one of the professional golfers at Simi Hills, and he was involved with a company called Golden Tee. They had opened up a practice facility at Moorpark College and were planning on building a new golf course in the hills just below the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library here in Simi Valley.

Me and good ol’ Paul What’s-his-name practicing our putting

As you may surmise from the graphic I’m including in this post, I had a really sweet deal with Golden Tee. Unfortunately, the guy on the left of this picture (his first name was Paul; I don’t remember his last name, and I think he’s moved on to that 19th hole in the sky. Suffice it to say, things got real ugly. I found the record of a court case where Golden Tee sued the Ventura County Community College Board . . . and lost. Actually, I think it was right around this time I experienced my bout of sciatica and, shortly thereafter, decided (along with my wife, of course) to adopt our first child . . . but that’s another story.

* Failure Mode and Effects Analysis/Critical Items List


Preserving My Past

The time has come for me to simplify . . . to apply some feng shui to my collection of old (ancient?) paperwork, some of which is more than several decades old. Paper is the one thing I seem to be a bit of a hoarder with; that and old clothing, I guess.

I am coming across papers, letters, and notes I’ve written over the years, many of them from my over two decades of service at Rocketdyne, where I was privileged to work on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program. In that time I worked for (without changing desks) Rockwell International, The Boeing Company, and the Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies. After I accepted an early retirement package in 2010, I returned as a contractor to work for Aerojet Rocketdyne in 2015, where I worked for a bit over two years.

Recently, I purchased a small, portable Brother scanner and I am slowly scanning old papers I’m finding. Inasmuch as I’m now publishing far more frequently to this blog, I’ve decided to save some of these things so I can throw the paper away and still have a record. It’s been over nine years since I retired and I find I’m forgetting what working in a large organization was like. Reading some of the documents I created helps me to remember what I did, as well as to feel reasonably confident I wasn’t just spinning my wheels.

What follows should be somewhat self-evident. It’s a letter I wrote to my manager in 1994, now over 25 years ago. I think I sound pretty reasonable, and I’m gratified to know I was pushing—pretty hard, I think—for positive change back then. I’m not an IT person; never went to undergrad and, besides, the earliest PCs didn’t come into existence until I was nearing my thirties. However, I did recognize the value such tools brought to managing and operating a business and I have always been a big promoter of technology in the office. At any rate, this is more for me than my readers, but some may find it “amusing.”

PS – I scanned the original “memo” in .jpg format and the accompanying Lotus presentation materials in .pdf, which you’ll have to click on if you’re interested in what Lotus was doing 25 years ago, before its acquisition by IBM.


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