Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Day 3365

I'm still thinking about yesterday. I sometimes confuse pictures with the real thing. Yesterday I was reminded that they are not the same. I've seen pictures and videos of the Saturn V rocket for most of my adult life. I wasn't prepared for the reality. This thing isn't just impressive, it is one of humanity's greatest achievements. The Saturn V has to be right up there with the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China. How did Wernher von Braun and his team ever get this complex beast to work? The Saturn V weighed 6.2 million pounds when it was fully fueled. It was taller than the Statue of Liberty. The rocket was conceived and developed in an era before digital electronics even existed. The entire thing was analog. When you look at the rocket up close, it is a gigantic steampunk dream. There are hundreds of miles of carefully color coded wires, all attached to something important. There is a plumber's nightmare of pipes surrounding the engines and fuel tanks. I've never seen anything so complex in my life.

The rocket was so heavy that the enormous first stage was only able to lift it about sixty miles. It took the other two stages to get a much lighter vehicle to the moon. It is a lasting tribute to the optimism of post World War II America that this impossible rocket ever flew. When you see the Apollo capsule attached at the very tip of this huge rocket, it looks so small that it almost appears to be an afterthought. I wonder if we could do something like this today? Probably not. When John Kennedy committed the nation to going to the moon, nothing was working. Rockets routinely exploded on the pad. The engineers never gave up though. They had an almost unlimited budget and kept experimenting until they finally got it right. Most importantly, the nation was with them. We still thought anything was possible in the early sixties.

There are still a few people who think anything is possible. One of those folks was NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, who was our guide through the NASA space vehicle mock up facility. I was amazed that this guy was gracious enough to spend the afternoon with us. He has spent over 100 days in space, including a risky and dangerous spacewalk where he was able to repair a faulty solar array on the International Space Station. One of the younger people in our group asked Wheelock if there was anything he learned in school that prepared him for becoming an astronaut. It was clear that some of the younger people in our group wanted to become astronauts themselves. Everyone expected that Wheelock would mention something about advanced physics or engineering classes. Nope. He said he learned the most from his high school metal shop teacher. He learned how things go together and this knowledge helped him repair the space station. I was impressed by this. Nobody knows how things work anymore. We are a generation that has become addicted to our phones but nobody has a clue how to repair them or how they function. The original astronauts and the support teams that put them into orbit were all problem solvers. It's good to know that the current generation of space travelers still are.

I have always been fond of grandiose projects like the La Sagrada Familia, The Hoover Dam, The Manhattan Project, and the Apollo Program. This is humanity at it's best. We've never been very good at being kind to one another, but we're damn good engineers.

Lance is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day