By Dr. Al Koller
This week marks the end of an era in American space exploration. Bathed in history and befuddled with “politics as usual”, our human space flight program appears poised to take its place on the dusty shelves of the past, along with the Shuttle Program and everything that has gone before it.
Although I can understand the reasons surrounding the end of Shuttle and the beginning of new commercial activity, it’s amazing to me that folks act as though what is happening is different from anything that ever happened in the history of humankind. Bull…
How do you think Vasco da Gama felt when he was denied the chance to capitalize on his experience as the first to sail from Portugal around Africa to India? Portugal became an instant leader in the 15th century sailing world, only to fade into oblivion, never to regain the prominence it once held. Rome suffered the same kind of fate, along with dynasties and nations throughout history. If you look, you can find innumerable examples where choices that changed the world were made while ignoring what seems now as gigantic errors but which, at the time, were made with the best intentions.
While we watch in silence the choices being made today for our space program, no one really knows what paths that MIGHT have been opened to us will never see the light of day – at least not in our lifetime. What makes it even more difficult to accept are that (1) we do so with the full knowledge that our only path forward will require that we rely on an old enemy that was never a match for our best minds, and (2) we will cede to others a leadership role that was hard won and never really used to its full potential. We are better than that, and we know it… Why, then, are we allowing this to happen? We have options.
Space exploration for our country never spent one penny outside our atmosphere. Every bit of it paid salaries here on earth. Space never consumed more than it gave back in the form of spin-off technologies we all use every day without even knowing from where it came. The people who took those first steps in space were part of an adventurous few who carried the flag for the rest of us and made our country the idol of the rest of the world. Worst of all, we now have better technology than we could even dream of then, and there are no good reasons to allow ourselves to drift into complacency other than laziness and the lack of the will to lead. To surrender without a real plan for the future is madness…
If you care at all about where we are headed as a nation, take a look at a man who helped found the Civil Air Patrol a long time ago. His name is Gill Robb Wilson, and he wrote a poem called “The Will to Lead” that was published in a 1960 issue of FLYING magazine. Few will remember him or his poem, and even fewer will really care – but ignoring that lesson will leave us poorer and without any explanation for what we are about to see happen to us.
Whoever said that those living in democracy get what they deserve was probably right. That’s because we get what we choose, and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves when history asks, as it did of da Gama, what in the world were we thinking when we abandoned our legacy in space.
R.I.P., NASA and our U. S. Space Program. What a ride it might have been.
The Will To Lead
Gill Robb Wilson
First published in Flying Magazine 1960
So long as this is a free man’s world
sombody has to lead;
Somebody has to carry the ball in word
and thought and deed;
Somebody’s got to knock on doors which
never have known a key;
Somebody’s got to see the things that the
throng would never see.
Hotter than thrust when the boost is hit,
somebody’s faith must burn;
And faster than mach when the rocket’s lit,
somebody’s mind must turn;
Somebody’s got to get the proof for what
the designers plan;
And test the dreams that the prophets dream
in behalf of their fellow man.
Somebody’s got to think of pay in terms
that are more than gold;
And somebody has to spend himself to buy
what the heavens hold;
Somebody’s got to leave the crowd and walk
with his fears alone;
Somebody’s got to accept the thorns and
weave for himself a crown.
It’s ever thus as the ages roll and the
record’s written clear–
Somebody has to give himself as the
price of each frontier;
Somebody has to take a cross and climb
to a rendezvous
Where a lonesome man with a will to lead
can make the truth shine through.
When I watch the International Space Station fly overhead, I am always amazed at what a piece of craftsmanship it truly is. Is it because of its large size or how high up it is? No, not really. It’s the fact that each and every piece was built in over 1 dozen countries by thousands of people and brought together for the first time 250 miles up in low Earth orbit. The chances of everything fitting together the first time would be astronomical (and it did fit together the first time!) if it wasn’t for one thing, the standardization of measurement.
With things such as the ISS, the various countries involved use the United States Customary System of measurement. In fact, as stated on the ISS tour at KSC, the ISS is the last international space project involving the USA that will use this system of measurement. Afterwards, all international space projects are to be done in the metric or SI system.
Currently the USA uses the United States Customary System as its standard of measurement. The rest of the world uses the International System of Units (SI or commonly known as “metric.”) In 1959, an international standard was agreed upon so that both standards could be easily translated back and forth. The table below shows a good example of conversions for common measurement between the American and SI standards.
|Exact relationships shown in boldface|
|1 inch (in)||2.54 cm|
|1 foot (ft)||12 in||0.3048 m|
|1 yard (yd)||3 ft||0.9144 m|
|1 mile (mi)||1760 yd||1.609344 km|
The standardization of measurement is a basic building block of a successful civilization. You cannot have trade, buildings, or complicated machinery without an agreed upon standard of measurement. From standards on length, volume, etc. societies cannot function without some standard of measurement. The next time you go to fuel your car, look at the gas pump. Somewhere on the pump will be a stamp from an official state office certifying that the pump meter is in accordance with standards of measurement when it calculates flow of gasoline being pumped into your car. This ensures the fair trade in your purchase of gasoline.
Many ancient societies had standards of measurement. Some small villages that dealt in trade would post their “standards of measurement” on a board in the village square, while larger governments and cities would actually set up standards of measurement by decree and have officials to enforce the standards.
The earliest known examples of standards of measurements came from the 4th and 3rd mellennia BC from the civilizations of Indus Valley (covering modern day parts of Pakistan, India, Iran, and Afghanistan, Egypt, and Mesopotamia (covering modern day parts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran). Probably the most common story of government setting standards of measurement is the story of King Henry I of England, who ruled England from 1100 to 1135. The standard for the “foot” was supposed to have been made by measuring the King’s foot. This practice had been going on before his rule, but it appears that new rulers would frequently want to leave their “mark” in some way in the culture, and this was one way of doing it, hence the “foot” and quite likely the term “ruler” for the stick showing a foot.
So what can happen if standards are ignored or the wrong standard is applied? Much can happen such as unfair trade practices, building collapses, machinery that cannot have interchangeable parts, and one famous example of a multi-million dollar spacecraft being lost.
The Mars Climate Orbiter was launched on December 11th, 1998 as part of a two spacecraft team (the other being the Polar Lander which was also lost) and was declared lost September 23rd, 1999. It was discovered that the loss of the spacecraft (total program cost of $327.6 million) was due to the wrong measurement standard being used. Lockheed Martin was responsible for the thrusters and had used United States Customary Units to calculate the thrust in pound force. The main computer was expecting the calculations to be in newton’s based on SI standards resulting in the spacecraft underestimating it’s thruster effects by a factor of 4.5 (1 pound force is equal to 4.5 newton’s) . The software error was never caught during ground testing and the entire spacecraft ended up dipping too low into Mar’s atmosphere during orbit insertion causing the spacecraft to burn up.
The importance of having a standard of measurement cannot be stressed enough. Because of these standards, a meter or foot means the same throughout the world ensuring fair and accurate trade, collaboration on international projects, and someday a human return to the Moon and on to Mars.
For more information try:
“Expert-a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field.” – dictionary.reference.com
Leading up to my appearance on The Space Show, I had stopped by the web site to check on upcoming guests. Along with other guests listed, my upcoming interview was listed and the host had titled me as a Space Shuttle expert. I was horrified! Though I had worked on the Space Shuttle fleet as a technician and had a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science, I was no way an expert in mine or many of my peer’s eyes. Many of my peers at KSC had much more experience and had forgotten more about the shuttle systems than I would ever learn in a lifetime. I immediately wrote an email to the host and asked him to take the word “expert” off the section announcing the upcoming interview.
A week later I was recounting the story to a friend of mine whom I considered an “expert” in academia. After I told the story, he told me that he considered me an “expert” on the Space Shuttle. I protested and reviewed the reasons as to why I couldn’t be an expert. He then countered with this simple argument: “You are the only person I know that has worked on the Space Shuttle fleet and you have taught me much about something I knew little of. In my eyes, you are an “expert.””
I reflected later that evening on what he had said and he was right. In his eyes, and many other people’s eyes, I am an “expert.” And, as an aerospace technician or student in an aerospace technology program, so are you.
How many aerospace technicians do you deal with on a daily basis outside of work? How many people in your life, family, friends, internet, business acquaintances, etc. outside of work are aerospace technicians that have actually worked on space related hardware? Probably very few people. How many people inside your workplace do you encounter that would have no clue as to what you do? That makes you an expert and a teacher to anyone that is a willing student.
During my time at KSC, I sent many personal pictures and emails detailing my day to day activites, for I felt working there was truly an adventure that should be shared. The surprising part was the feedback I got. Instead of people complaining about my numerous emails and pictures, many friends and family (and some others that the emails got forwarded too) wrote back thanking me for teaching them about the Space Shuttle in such a personal way. Much of the information I shared was just common day to day stuff for the aerospace technicians, but for the general public it was all new, interesting, and educational. I would venture to say that probably 99% of the general population in our country and world has no clue as to what you do as an aerospace technician to prepare a spacecraft for its mission or what that mission is. I have had contact and questions from people literally all over the world showing an intense desire to learn more and that in turn pushed me to learn more to be a better teacher and technician.
Even at work, astronauts would approach technicians and ask what they were doing and would become the student learning from that technician. Same goes for some of the upper management and even VIP guests such as senators and ambassadors. During those times, the aerospace technicians are the expert and have a duty, in my humble opinion, to teach and hopefully give that person a positive experience during their visit.
Just getting through the first semester in the aerospace technology program has already made you an “expert” in relation to the general public. The lessons you learn on space history, aerospace culture, safety, etc. is much more than most people get in a lifetime. And, as people in your life find out that you are learning to “work on spaceships”, they will look to you with many questions they have had but never knew where to find the answers. You are now their “expert” and it is a great opportunity to teach someone about space exploration and why it is important to our country and our human race as a whole.
Getting public support for our Human Spaceflight Program doesn’t entail full page ads in the paper or busing in as many people as you can to watch a launch. It does not entail having an astronaut appearing on TV or at a public appearance. It does not entail press releases by NASA. Gaining support and understanding for what we do is done one person, one taxpayer, one politician, one child, etc. at a time and it’s done by you.
You want public support for our HSF? Then it’s up to you to garner it. Teach your family, friends, post a blog, whatever, but make time to teach about what you do. That child you see playing with a toy spacecraft at the store or on the playground, can be overjoyed at their good luck to have you talk with them and their parents for five minutes (show some pictures on your phone of your workplace) about what you do and why you do it. While you may not remember the encounter days later, they will remember it for years to come and will have passed on the news that they met someone from “NASA” who works on rockets to their family and friends and that he took time to speak with them.
When someone sees your Boeing, Lockheed, USA, SpaceX, etc. sticker on your car or on your tee-shirt and ask about it, make time and show them some pictures and talk a little bit about your job. You are the “expert” to them and they may never have an opportunity again in their lifetime to meet someone from a space center. Is five minutes of your time worth it when you will give them a positive memory of space exploration for a lifetime? I hope so. You will find the experience just as rewarding as the person will when you make time to share your “expertise.”
Last night Gregory N. Cecil, M.A.S., a 2003 alumni of the SpaceTec program (the Gemini Class) appeared on The Space Show hosted by Dr. David Livingston. The interview went so well that it went a half hour over the scheduled time. There were many good calls and email questions from all over the world and Kennedy Space Center.
You can download to the interview or listen online at the following link:
http://archived.thespaceshow.com/shows/1452-BWB-2010-11-03.mp3 This is the direct URL to the interview.
You can also subscribe to The Space Show podcast on iTunes and download this interview and many other worthwhile interviews to listen too.
A while back I was a guest speaker at an aerospace technician class. This was the first semester for the class in a two year program. I asked the students where they planned on working after graduation and to the man/woman, they all said “the Space Shuttle program” at Kennedy Space Center. I pointed out the program would be over by the time they graduated in two years and a look of surprise and dismay crossed their faces. I then asked if they were aware of and could name other space ports in these United States of America and they indicated they were not aware of any others. I proceeded to teach them about the other space ports and to explain that the skills they were learning will be needed there also.
Kennedy Space Center gets all the publicity because of Human Space Flight, but there are currently nine space ports in use and 3 proposed ones. The nearest space port is just right across Mosquito Lagoon from KSC at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). The primary companies that launch there are United Launch Alliance and SpaceX. (SpaceX also has a launch facility at the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.) Many unmanned NASA probes, government, and commercial satellites are launched from this facility at multiple launch pads. Also Pegasus launches are conducted from there. CCAFS has been launching rockets since the 1950’s.
Further up the east coast is NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at Goddard Space Flight Center. Wallops is responsible for launching sub-orbital and small orbital launches along with testing and research. Wallops has been in business launching these smaller rockets since 1945.
Just next door to Wallops is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). MARS launches both commercial and government payloads. MARS has been launching rockets since 2006.
Moving out west, there is the Nevada Test and Training Range responsible for launching sounding rockets and test vehicles. It was formally known as Nellis Air Force Base and is also home to Area 51. They have been launching since the 1950’s along with many other activities.
The next launch facility is in New Mexico called Spaceport America. It’s most famous resident is Virgin Galactic which will be launching tourists into sub-orbital flight within the next year. Spaceport America also does sub-orbital commercial launches. Spaceport America has been an operating spaceport since 2006.
California has three spaceports, including one that is mobile. First is the Vandenberg Air Force Base which specializes in ballistic missile tests, along with the typical government and commercial satellite payloads. Vandenberg has been launching rockets since the 1950’s.
The second California spaceport is the privately owned Mojave Air & Space Port. This facility is famous for the two historic launches of Space Ship One. Mojave Air & Space Port has been operating since 2004.
The third California space port is Ocean Odyssey Complex owned and operated by Sea Launch. Ocean Odyssey Complex is a converted oil rig with associated support ships whose home port is in Long Beach California but does the actual launches at the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Ocean Odyssey Complex has been doing commercial launches since 1999.
If you don’t mind the cold, there is the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. Kodiak is operated by the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation and specializes in satellite and ballistic missile interceptor launches. They have been in operation since 1998.
There are also numerous spaceports throughout the world if you feel like working outside of the country. You can find a list of these spaceports along with the appropriate links here.
The point is, though Shuttle work at KSC (though some other work there continues) is coming to a standstill, there is still lots of work at CCAFS (for example SpaceX and ULA) and other spaceports throughout the country and the world for certified aerospace technicians both in government and private companies. Don’t limit your talents and skills to just one spaceport. Think outside of the box and the area when it comes to pursuing the career you have chosen.
How did six American Flags end up on the Moon? “Well duh, it’s because American astronauts put them there,” you might say. Well not so fast. It was a little more complicated than that. A basic tenet of human nature is to take simple things and make them as complicated as possible. Deciding which flag to put on the first manned mission to the Moon is no exception.
President John F. Kennedy first proposed using an American flag by saying, “…for the eyes of the world now look into space, to the Moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.” NASA did not take much notice of that at the time for the Moon was still years away. In fact, only spacecraft had American flags on them and it wasn’t until Astronaut Ed White’s first spacewalk that you even saw an American flag on a spacesuit along with one on his partner, James McDivitt’s suit. Both of the men had bought the American flag patches themselves and had them placed on their suits. Afterwards, NASA started having all spacesuits adorned with American Flags.
But putting a nation’s flag on a spacesuit is nothing compared to the historical significance of placing a flag on the Moon. The political aspects internationally and domestically for such an event had to be considered. Though it would be Americans landing on the Moon, they were representing all of humanity in this historic first visit to another world.
“Planting the flag” usually means making a claim to something, usually territory or land. Throughout history men have “planted the flag” claiming ownership in the name of the king, queen, country, church, etc. marking the land as their own. The United States had signed a United Nations Treaty in 1967 called the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies also commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty. A section of that treaty forbids nations from claiming celestial bodies as their own through “claim of sovereignty, by means of occupation, or by any other means.” Since “planting the flag” up to this time in history usually meant a “claim of sovereignty”, NASA had to explore if planting the American Flag would be perceived by nations of the world as a claim or would they understand it was only symbolic.
To solve this problem, NASA of course set up a committee to explore the issue. In February of 1969, the Committee on Symbolic Activities for the First Lunar Landing was established. “The committee was instructed to select symbolic activities that would not jeopardize crew safety or interfere with mission objectives; that would “signalize the first lunar landing as an historical forward step of all mankind (Sounds like something Neil Armstrong said a few months later doesn’t’ it?) that has been accomplished by the United States” and that would not give the impression that the United States was “taking possession of the Moon” in violation of the Outer Space Treaty.”
The committee looked at options such as planting the United Nations Flag, leaving a solar wind experiment that looked like an American flag, leaving little flags of all the nations of the world, or putting a plaque or marker on the surface of the Moon. Arguments were made that since the first humans on the Moon were representing mankind, then some type of world flag such as the UN flag should be used. Another argument in favor of the international type flag was the fact that even though most of the work and cost of Apollo was borne by the American people, NASA did have some international partners assisting in the program in a limited role including the Swiss with their development of the solar experiment, eight different countries assigned to examine any lunar rocks brought back, Brazil with its rocket sounding program, and the various nations that hosted tracking sites at their own expense.
In the end, the committee decided that only the American Flag should be planted on the Moon and also recommended the famous plaque left on the lunar lander that said, “Here men from planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” The plaque would not have any nation’s flag on it, but a picture of the east and west hemispheres. Small flags of all 50 states and member nations of the United Nations were to be brought along, but returned to Earth with the crew and presented to each entity the flag represented.
The night before the launch of Apollo 11 a crew of technicians supervised by Jack Kinzler, the Chief of Technical Services Division at Marshall Space-flight Center, attached the American flag and plaque to the Lunar Module Eagle. On July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin deployed the American Flag on the lunar surface, a task that only took about 10 minutes but watched by the entire world. There was no international outcry and only a few media outlets complained about the United Nations flag being left out. A precedent was set and along with Congress’s blessing, all subsequent Moon landings had an American flag deployed at each site.
Anne M. Platoff of Hernandez Engineering Inc. has written an excellent paper on this subject, called “Where No Flag Has Gone Before: Political and Technical Aspects of Placing a Flag on the Moon,” that also includes the technical hurdles NASA had to overcome to deploy the flag. Most of the information in this post is directly gleaned or quoted from her paper. You can find the paper here.
These are challenging times right now for our nation’s Human Space Flight program and the aerospace workforce in general. With the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program and the future of America’s HSF in doubt, there is cause for pessimism. But, I don’t think that all is lost or doomed.
I’ve been a “space nut” ever since I first saw Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon and when I was first hired to work on the Space Shuttle fleet, it was a dream come true. I used to get up every day, kiss my wife goodbye, and say to her “I’m going to work on my spaceship!” I remember reading an article once quoting an engineer working on the Mars Rovers who when asked at a dinner party what he did at work, he replied, “I drive a rover around on Mars. What do you do?”
These are the unique experiences we all have. Out of the billions that live in this world, just a few thousand of us have had the experiences being part of space exploration. Every day was an adventure at Kennedy Space Center and though some days the particular job I was doing may not be “fun”, KSC was still the coolest place to work. The same applies at all the NASA centers no matter if you were working in HSF or planetary probes, etc. Those memories and experiences cannot ever be taken away once you have lived them.
Working in a space program requires you to be a problem solver. While others in this world were trying to figure out what to wear for the day or what fast food restaurant to have lunch at, you were figuring out unique problems and solving them so you could once again “touch the heavens” and make our world a better place.
With the unknowns facing our workforce right now, those problem solving skills need to be used to the fullest extent, not just in a space program, but in your own personal lives and careers. How can you survive the time between programs? How can you influence what HSF program will come into being? What can you do to make yourself more marketable? If you are currently a student in an Aerospace Technology program, you might ask, “Is there any hope that I will get to use my degree in a space program?” For those questions and many others, I have some humble advice.
Increase Your Vision
Kennedy Space Center, or Marshall, or Houston, etc. are not the only space centers in this great world of ours. Too many people become focused on the one space center in their area that they forget that NASA, private companies, and other countries have space centers throughout the world. With English being the common language for airlines and science in this world, you already have an advantage being able to speak the language. You can apply to other space centers and combine your adventures working in space flight with living in a new place.
Be a Problem Solver Outside of Work
What can you do to survive while awaiting the next program? You have an experience that most people in this world will never have. You may want to try to find a way to communicate that experience and share it with other people. You can do this with a blog, lectures, write a book, or maybe teach. As a technician, why can’t you build a “Launch Control Center” with bells, buttons, and blinking lights to enhance some child’s experiences with his model rocket he got for
Christmas and sell them? The media and the government may not be too interested in space flight right now but Joe Public still is. You are truly limited by only your imagination on how to share these experiences with other people and profit from it.
Be Politically Aware and Active
Whether you like it or not, politicians determine our programs and fund it. Nearly all of these politicians couldn’t tell the difference from the nose of the Space Shuttle to the tail. Most people in aerospace think that only CEO’s and rich entrepreneurs have exclusive access to our politicians, but that is not true. You have access also through email, regular mail, town hall meetings, phone calls, etc. You can find your contact info at this website. You just need to input your zip code. Use these methods of communication to teach your politicians about space exploration and why it is important to our nation. Remember, these politicians actually work for you and they need to hear from you. Ask them what HSF plan they support. Did you know there are four leading HSF plans out there right now? Educate yourself as to what each of these plans are and decide for yourself if any of them are right for our nation or if another plan not being thought of right now is better and let your politicians know. Tell them why you think the plan you’ve chosen is the right one and be specific about it. Ask them if they support your plan and don’t accept a general answer such as “I support the space program.” Ask for specifics. Be a frequent communicator and teacher with your politicians. Just because you are a technician does not mean you don’t have credibility to lobby your politicians for what you think is right for our nation’s HSF program. Vote for and donate to the campaigns of the politicians that share your dream. Support them by working in their campaign office as a volunteer.
Be Aware of Your Industry
Learn as much as you can about all the different space programs, ones that are currently in place and ones that are coming online. Broadening your knowledge about the different space programs out there gives you an advantage to seeing opportunities to find work that others may miss. Check out their websites, get on their press release email lists, network with people inside those programs, go to various space websites and participate in the comment forums. If you work on satellites as a technician, did you know that NASA has programs that send satellites into the upper atmosphere via balloons? How can your skills translate to that program if your current program ends?
Don’t Stop Learning
Some people think that once they obtain their degree and learn their job, they don’t need to learn anymore. You should always be stretching and growing or you risk being left behind once your program ends. If you are a technician on the Space Shuttle, think about learning about robotics, composites, etc. Look at other space programs, both current and future ones, and make an educated decision as to what their needs will be, and then get certified or degreed in those areas so you can be more marketable. The worst thing you could do is just sit home and collect unemployment waiting on a space program to call you. Get out there and add to your education and pursue those opportunities.
Most Importantly Do Not Give Up Hope
“Chance favors the prepared” as the old saying goes. Being an aerospace technician has already given you the most important skill set and that is problem solving. Make use of it in your pursuit to further your career and you will be surprised at the potential opportunities that will come your way.
Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments area as to what our community of technicians can do to weather these uncertain times.