Archive for the ‘Personal Essays’ Category

Continuum

Monday, July 9th, 2012
a diagram to illustrate the concept of a continuum

Continuums are Cool!

It is always good to know where you are. This knowledge provides context which can help you make good decisions. It can also help you predict how your environment might affect you physically. This is true in life, in general, but it is also true in science. As an aerospace engineer I am interested in the science of aerodynamics, where environmental context is critically important.

Environment is so important in aerodynamics because aerospace vehicles behave differently depending on where they are. Clearly an airplane and an earth-orbiting satellite operate in different regimes. One way to distinguish flight regimes is determine whether there exists a continuum.

According to wiktionary a continuum is defined as “a continuous series, or whole, no part of which is noticeably different from its adjacent parts, although the ends or extremes of it are very different from each other.”

In practical terms earth’s atmosphere is a continuum. The air is composed of many molecular particles that interact with one another. At sea level these particles are very close and densely packed. High in the atmosphere though, the particles are much less densely packed and are farther apart from one another.

The average distance between particles is called the mean free path. Gravity affects these particles and tends to pull them down to the surface, so they collect densely at sea level and the mean free path is short. With increasing altitude the mean free path increases, for a variety of reasons. Mean free path is one of two important paramters need to the define a continuum.

To discuss the second parameter I need to establish the idea of a simple airplane. The simplest airplane I can think of is a flying disk, so, imagine a frisbee. The diameter of the frisbee is the same as its chord length.For a traditional wing the chord length is the front-to-back distance from its leading edge to its trailing edge. Chord length is the second parameter needed to define continuum.

For the purposes of aerodynamics there is a continuum when the mean free path of the surrounding atmosphere is shorter than the chord length of a object under consideration, in this case, our frisbee.

Once the mean free path exceeds the chord length then there is no continuum anymore. In effect the regime is no longer atmospheric, but rather, space. The physical changes from sea level to the boundary of space are gradual; beyond that boundary the change transitioning to space is abrupt, and calls for a different type of design for any vehicle.

I find this concept compelling for its similarity to other things in life. The ageing process – a continuum. The way we learn – a continuum. Our position in life changes more often like a continuum rather than abruptly. There are many others.

Not all things in life, but many, we experience as a continuum.

I am often amazed at how the things I learned in becoming an engineer have relevance outside of their strict application in science.

 

 

Am I a Do-it-Yourselfer ?

Sunday, July 8th, 2012
my collection of DIY tools is small

Results are in – two out of five items is not enough!

As part of my search for meaning in the universe I am often wont to ask deep and probing questions. Today’s question is ‘am I a do-it-yourselfer’? How though might I answer such a question objectively?

Luckily I found a thread on StackExchange.com that purports to identify the top tools a person would need in order to call themself a DIY’er.

Since their gimmick over there works as a vote-based sorting mechanism, I can be sure that if the internet community has passed judgement on what is needed, then I can be confident as well that I making a well informed assessment of my DIY status.


Top of the list – cordless power drill. Uh, OK…. last time I used one of these, it had a power cord, and I used it while rebuilding a bedroom closet, about 15 years ago. I still own it , but like I said, it has a cord. Zero points for me.

Next, I’d have to have a ‘good weight crowbar.’ Confession time – I don’t even have a ‘bad weight’ version and can’t think of a single use for one. Suggested uses, from the list includes: lifting, prying, bashing and ‘most importantly, against zombies and headcrabs.’ I do know some real-life zombies, but I’ve been shaving my head for a while now. Clubbing the former would be against the law (my zombies happen to be real people – although I don’t work with them anymore), and as for the latter, again, no hair, no headcrabs – you do the math. Still zero points for me. Not looking good.

Wow, pay dirt – I actually own the third item on the list – a good stiff measuring tape. Not sure why the emphasis on ‘stiff’; no matter – mine is; score one point for me.

Here’s one that is just plain common sense; everyone needs one of these – a first aid kit. What kind of idiot would not have one of these. Apparently, my kind, because I am ‘sans kit.’ I do have an assortment of band aids, I know better though than claim credit on such flimsy grounds. They are not the same. Stuck at one point.

I do have a utility knife, which is next on the list. I am surprised as you. Another point for me.

Considering my performance near the top of this list, 2 out of 5 so far, I am going to have conclude that no, I am not a DIY’er. I am other things though, just not that, and by golly, I am OK with that. I still know some zombies though – does that count for anything?

The Rolling Stones are now part of my Fourth of July Tradition!

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012
How whitewingcrow.com will celebrate the 4th of July!

www.whitewingcrow.com CELEBRATES the 4th of July!

Last year, for the first time I chose a musical theme as the backdrop for my Fourth of July celebration. Not that I was anti-music or non-music before that, but rather, this time I wanted a musical theme. Something upbeat in the background; something to provide a rhythm for the day.

I wanted the music to be consistent throughout the entire day – just one artist. Checked the iPod then to start the selection process. Turns out my digital music collection is much broader that it is deep. Not too many bands would support a day of playing without premature looping . Immediately the field narrowed. Only three bands where up to the challenge for number of songs; Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Steely Dan.

Friends know I’m die-hard fan I am of Led Zeppelin so one might have concluded the contest was over before it began. Not so fast though. Steely Dan had a chance I suppose, but as much as I like their music it tends too much to smooth, or jazzy to fulfill the “upbeat” requirement.

[Alert! Drop-in Editorial: in the midst of writing this I realize I’ve taken extensive writer-ly liberty to streamline this post – I totally dropped many other bands from consideration that could have sufficed from the musical repository of my iPod – Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, David Bowie, the Killers and the Black Keys, Jimi… there’s a couple more I’m forgetting]

Editorializing aside, I still had a choice to make – Stones or Zep? I caught myself thinking out loud – “Led Zeppelin is still my favorite band, but really, who has the better catalog, top to bottom? Led Zeppelin, or the Stones?” and despite internal comments like – “LZ had greater overall greater impact during its shorter active lifespan.” – I had to ask and answer the ultimate question – (sorry about the repeat into; I must have been compensating for feeling unfaithful to Zep) – “LZ is still my favorite, but gotta hand it to Stones for consistent quality, sheer volume of great songs, epic rock personalities, and longevity!”

So that’s how I decided to loop the Stones for my Fourth of July soundtrack – next time I’ll tackle the backlash I suffered as a result of blurting out this choice on Facebook – and quoting a FB friend – “…you chose a Brit band for your July 4th soundtrack… what’s wrong with you? That is sacrilege!”

Uh, no, not really, that’s just freedom of choice. Regardless, Happy Fourth of July , no matter who you choose for your musical backdrop.

If writing is good for me, why is it depressing me?

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Hand, Hawk Feather, Horizon, Moon

Investing the energy required to revitalize this blog has been good for me. It’s been on my list of projects for a while, and I am happy to be up and running again.

I feel good about my ability to write, even to choose interesting subjects and provide useful information or insight. As a creative person, who also plays guitar and draws, it is good to make something from nothing, and to be productive.

So, if writing is so good for me, then why is it depressing me now?

I know it is not the act of writing itself. I’ve written regularly before, and I’ve enjoyed the process; online collectible-card-art reviews, and personal essays for example.

I think the difference is that now I am writing with purpose. Everything else I’ve written, aside from work, has been for fun, nothing was at stake. Write to provide some insight into artistic merit? Sure, no problem. Thought I had an interesting story to tell? Absolutely, go for it. So I did, and each time I got all the rewards I wanted and or needed. Neat and tidy.

This launch is different though. I seem to be on a mission, writing with purpose. Now I am seeking to discover a voice as I navigate through uncertain times. That purpose includes tackling issues related to being unemployed at a particularly vulnerable point in the typical career arc. For that voice to be meaningful it must at least speak to me and my needs. So I write for myself as an audience, however, not just myself. How much better if that voice would speak to others as well. People who might be in a similar position. People who find themselves in transition, and who are trying to become the better person that they need to be for their own future.

Even while I strive to be positive in writing, and even inject a little humor when possible there is no denying that part of this mission touches sensitive areas and sometimes opens old wounds. The starkness of facing the reality of the situation after decades of life investment into a career that was supposed to last up until a normal retirement age is itself palpable.

Also, in order to provide honest insight as part of this mission, some things I write might not reflect well on either myself or my former industry. Either of these mightn’t bode well for me if a recruiter or other possible employer stumbles upon this blog.

So if you happen to be recruiter, a prospective employer, or even a former colleague, know that I do not mean to alienate you; I simply mean to write with a mission. If however you find yourself offended, remember I am not writing for you, or to you – I am writing for myself and for anyone else who might benefit from my experience or insight.

Since this seems a valid mission and if dealing with a little depression is the price to pay, so be it. Writing this time, with purpose, the course of my future is at stake. I know the personal rewards will come, because if nothing else, I have already benefited from the process.

Oh, one last thing – “Go at Throttle Up!

 

[PS: thanks to SCVInternetMarketers.com for the help that they’ve been in the process. Revitalization of this blog commenced when I attended my first meetup with them. On that occasion they announced a month-long contest to encourage members to either start, or re-vitalize their own blog, with the goal being consistency in posting. Along the way Chris, the organizer of the group, as well as other members, have been a great help.]

Functional Programming Defined by Consensus

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012


Learning computer science is part of what I am up to currently. Through two classes at Udacity.com I’ve been introduced to basic programming in cs101, and then to functional programming in cs212. Both used the python which is known for its power, ease of learning, and suitability for application to a broad spectrum of problems.

The first course introduced basic concepts such as creating, assigning and storing data in memory, defining functions as blocks of code, program flow control structures, argument passing and data return, program execution and data output.

Building on that foundation, the second courses introduced additional powerful capabilities. List comprehensions, regular expressions, generator expressions, search algorithms and recursion were covered, all at breakneck speed. Fundamental to this second class though was a concept that challenged the understanding and assumptions of the students new to computer science; that was the power of the function within functional programming. The essential distinction is that, beyond merely defining a function, it thereafter can be treated as any other object that the language accommodates. This is such a powerful idea, and its implications so far reaching that there is a pedagogical imperative by which students are are first intentionally shielded from this knowledge. Computer Science professors slowly feed their students regurgitated worms until the time that their little birds are ready to be pushed from the nest; until such time in the course that students are properly prepared to absorb the full impact, utility, and implications of functional programming. Lovely image, won’t you agree? I just threw that in to see if anyone was paying attention.

For me, the concept was rather elusive at first, and still remains somewhat mysterious. So much so that it bears revisiting. So now, before my next round of online classes start, I will as an exercise attempt to define functional programming by digesting an two existing StackOverflow threads (first,second). My theory is that if I shine a light on a subject from many different directions a better understanding will emerge. This will be my first, but probably not my last attempt to reinforce my conceptual understanding of functional programming.

As gleaned from the referenced threads the following is one composite definition of functional programming, or “FP” hereafter. FP is well suited for a wide variety of problems but especially so when mathematics are involved. Because of the mathematical emphasis FP is more flexible in terms of abstraction and composition. Here abstraction means the ability to simplify problems by using FP constructs to model the problem. Composition refers to the ability to extend the power of functions by combining, nesting and extending them as permitted by the FP language of choice.

A key distinction, referring to that first mentioned above in my introduction is that FP promotes functions to first class variables. Here is where, if the professor said that on the first day of class, I would have likely said, “hey, I want to go back to my regurgitated worms.” Sorry, I could not resist.

One feature of an FP approach is to limit the use of global variables, or variables that are visible to the full scope of the program. This facilitates the ability to employ parallel execution. Typical usage of this would include graphic modeling and ray-tracing. The latter figures prominently in computer animation.

FP also implements powerful data structure capabilities. A benefit of this allows for more efficient algorithms and code than non-FP approaches. Similarly, with list comprehensions, such as provided in python, FP promotes brevity by allowing the collapse of very complex loop mechanisms into a single line list comprehension.

Generator expression in python also promote efficient memory utilization in that elements in a large set of data can be referenced by their place in the set, as if generated on demand, rather than consuming a large array as with in imperative programming.

Finally FP encourages modularity as a result of a more decouple approach than imperative programming; this enables reusability of code and improves testability as well.

This concludes my experiment in FP concept reinforcement. I have benefited from the exercise, and I hope you were not overly traumatized by the worm reference. I promise to try not to use such a revolting literary device ever again.

What Happened to That Feeling?

Sunday, June 24th, 2012


There was a feeling I knew in a different time. I do not know what happened to it, or where it went. Surely a feeling abundant in my youth. No else has told me that they’ve had this specific feeling, it is possible that it was mine alone; I doubt it, but it is possible, I suppose.

It is the summer, hot, and humid – midday. The sprinkler runs, watering the lawn, billowing white clouds dot the still sunny sky. A suburban front yard, seemingly perched high on the top of a hill, but maybe that’s just how I remember, not how it actually was. Thick luxurious grass, bursting with chlorophyll, thirsty for its water, which rains down, in undulating sheets, as the sprinkler oscillates.

The day’s gentle breeze lifts a bough of mist, tossing it in the air, and just for a second, a rainbow. Ever so temporarily, shimmering saturated colors, those colors. Then just as quickly, it’s gone.

Not a care in the world, fully alive running at full speed, leaping though the water as it undulates, side to side, thin jets fanning out. The grass when whetted is slippery and forgiving. A skidding on the knees, that would tear and burn on dry grass, instead, yields easily, slick, causing no harm.

The person waters, the grass drinks, the children run about gleefully – taking in the day, enjoying, just being, alive. Shorts, no shirts, sunburn certain; it would be hard to fall asleep that night, for the hot, tightened red skin, but, not so, because of sheer exhaustion – sleep will come, and will be welcomed. Dreams of what wonders tomorrow will hold may fill the mind.

I don’t know what happened to that feeling. Is it gone forever? Can it be recovered, or is it the sole possession of the youth. They own it fully in their moment, when it is truly and rightfully theirs, however, not knowing, if it will last.

As sad as that may sound, I am buoyed, however briefly, with transient flashes of this distantly remembered feeling reoccurring now – sometimes. It has come, however temporarily, when I am immersed in some activity – maybe drawing, or while playing my guitar, sometimes when swimming a long distance, gliding through the water, as if for my life.

It’s there like a ghost, the feeling – my chest filled with some ephemeral incarnation of awe. Gone, though, as quickly as it came, like that temporary rainbow… but at least I know, it’s within reach, if only for a moment.

That sensation is the feeling of being alive… and it is worth living for.

 

New Access to Knowledge Delivery for Everyone!

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Here’s a bold assertion – any person, anywhere in the world, who is seeking to learn computer science, and who has access to the internet need look no further than Udacity.com. Enrolling in a class will allow any person free college level education, taught by world-class professors using coursework comparable to that at America’s premier technical universities.

So named by combining ‘U’ for ‘University’ with ‘-dacity’ as the root of the word ‘audacious’, Udacity.com represents a revolution in how knowledge is being delivered.

Frustrated by the limitations of teaching a relative handful of elite students at a time, at exclusive schools like Stanford and MIT, pioneers like Sebastion Thrun are promising, and delivering disruptive innovation in education.

At a time when our traditional university system is showing its limitations in terms of limited access, declining funding, rising tuition and crushing student debt, the prospect of FREE, WORLD-CLASS education is supremely appealing.

The world needs this, and thanks to visionaries like Thrun and others (many from Silicon Valley) it is ready resource, available to one and all.

If it sounds like am a convert, I am guilty as charged. I’ve had the good fortune to discover this right at its inception, in April 2012, and I have already completed two classes – cs101 How to Build a Search Engine (an introduction to computer science using Python programming language) and cs212, The Design of Computer Programs. The latter class was taught by Dr Peter Norvig, who is not only director of research at Google, but he is a recognized world leader in the field of artificial intelligence.

One undeniable benefit of this approach is that each class, which is delivered online in video format, has its own student support forum. All students can interact, one another, the teaching assistants and the professor himself. In fact I have posted questions on the forum to which have been directly answered by Dr. Norvig. When is the last time you got direct interaction with a pioneer and leading authority in the field of artificial intelligence?

By completing a class student get, in addition to the knowledge received, a certificate that indicates a varying measure of mastery, but oddly enough, no grade. This tends to rattle some students who, by habit, think only in traditional terms of grade-based feedback. To think that way is to miss out on the beauty of the concept of Udacity.com; what good is a grade, in a class where every exam is ‘take-home’ and the main purpose is the acquisition of knowledge?

There is speculation that their business model will evolve to include paid-for certifications where exams are somehow monitored and results verified, but Udacity.com has pledged that all their courses will always be available for free. This suits my needs perfectly; I don’t need the grade, I need the knowledge, and the price is right!

To deal with the stresses of our current economic despair and to be sufficiently prepared for our individual and collective futures I believe each person has to become a better version of themselves in all ways. What Udacity.com has to offer to me fits perfectly with this belief and is part of my personal plan forward. I’d invite you to consider for yourself whether this, or something similar could help you become a better version of you. The next offering of classes starts on June 26th, 2012.


That’s my OODA Loop, and Yes, I am Happy to See You!

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Having introduced the OODA Loop yesterday it’s now time to examine how its application is relevant in my life currently.

Traditionally associated with military tactics in aerial combat, this recurring decision-making cycle consists of these steps – Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Information from each step feeds forward into successive steps. Similarly, results of each increment feed back directly to the Observe step since they represent significant changes in the overall situation.

This has proven effective in the stress of combat because correctly applied it allows the pilot to respond effectively to the environment and to his opponent. He will defeat the enemy and perhaps most importantly, he will likely survive the encounter.

While I am not engaged in aerial combat presently, I do find myself in a rather stressful situation. I am currently unemployed; my economic survival and readiness for my future are in question. As such, it occurred to me to revisit the OODA Loop with the following question in mind – could I apply it to my present circumstances?

Here’s what’s going on with my OODA Loop, mid-cycle:

Observe – Relevant aspects of my observable environment include, [1] a US economy in a deep and severe recession, with sparse, if any at all, indications of near-term improvement, [2] an aerospace industry that is stagnant with no major US government acquisitions on the horizon, [3] a personal economy that includes mortgage commitments, and retirement savings which, although “above average” will not be sufficient on their own, especially in light of likely Social Security and Medicare reform.

Without making my age an inordinately large part of this conversation I will say that I am too young to take early retirement, but I’ve been around long enough to become vulnerable in terms of age and wage discrimination in my former industry.

If the preceding observations seems overly negative, I will assert that I do have useful skills accrued over my undergraduate education and professional career. These are reusable skills that can be leveraged and repurposed.

Orient – A large part of my orientation step depends on the quality of, and my interactions with my immediate and extended network, and with friends, one of whom has assisted me in a role as my mentor. The interim result of my orientation step is an awareness that [1] software solutions are ubiquitous with little prospect that software’s role in our lives will diminish, [2] modern personal computers are incredibly capable and can be leveraged to host powerful development environments, [3] the open source software movement has produced vast volumes of free software, [4] delivery systems, most notably cloud-based computing have revolutionized how software can be distributed, [5] the internet itself stores expansive resources to learn many things, including software development, [6] new means of “knowledge delivery” are beginning to emerge, most notably Udacity.com, a free, online university taught by world-class professors, from institutions such as MIT and Stanford. Did I mention it was free, and world-class?

Decide – Based on my observe and orient steps I have decided on this path: I will prepare myself to become a hybrid of a systems engineer and a software developer, by following a jointly determined (by myself and my mentor) learning curriculum, using my “powerful laptop” along with open source software development tools fashioned to implement a linux-python-java-groovy-grails-MySQL ramp in order to develop value-added solutions to customers ranging from small business to large-scale aerospace, delivered whenever possible as a hardware/software appliance bundle, or as software-as-a-service (SaaS).

Act – Based on the above plan I will learn specific software skills through [1] self-directed study using borrowed books and the internet, and through [2] successive classes at Udacity.com. Associated actions, on a parallel path to the software learning include, learning the basics of business, and business development through interaction with my network, and by attendance at various meetups and user’s groups. In addition I will be revisiting selected liberal arts educational objectives that weren’t part of my aerospace engineering eduction.

As a result of actions, taken above, more feedback is directed to the Observe step and the cycle repeats.

Note, to tell this story, it has been streamlined. In reality I have already been doing this over the course of a year. I have been through roughly four complete cycles, and this post represents a distillation. At this point I am effectively entering a new Act step which will include enrollment and completion of several Udacity.com courses for the next hexamester that starts Monday the 26th of June. Having completed Dr Peter Norvig’s most recent class, cs212, the Design of Computer Programs I have Observed, Oriented, and then I Decided on the next classes. Note that the classes I will take are different than what I might have expected to take prior to the last cycle through the OODA Loop.

This is an experiment-in-progress, but so far, I’d say it has been effective for me. In my opinion it is a flexible, agile approach. With current economic stresses and uncertainties, combined with concerns over the long term prospects for traditional employment models in corporate America, I believe that this kind of method is as applicable, now, to people in my situation, as it was when first formulated by John Boyd for application to aerial combat.

Is there an OODA Loop in your Future?

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Being out and about in today's dismal economyJohn Boyd’s OODA Loop as Data Flow Diagram by Michael LaRue presents an array of opportunities and challenges. Since the word displaced is a euphemism for laid-off/unemployed, let's face it, restoring an income stream is one of the most important of those challenges. One way or another, doing that will require some situational assessment and decision-making.

Regardless of how well an aerospace engineering degree and decades of professional experience may equip a person, there is no silver bullet solution, or natural growth path towards a comfortable future, once displaced. A person in this position has to be resourceful and purposeful in moving forward.

Presented with this exact situation myself, I wondered what decision-making framework from my prior experience might serve well? Fortunately for me, something came to mind pretty quickly, the famous OODA loop!

My exposure to this concept came while working on an enhanced threat assessment feature of the Space-Based Space Surveillance system. Don't worry, it's unclassified, or at least it was at the time.

Briefly, OODA is a method for effective decision-making which is composed of a recurring cycle of the following steps: Observe – Orient – Decide – Act. This loop was created by Air Force Colonel John Boyd for application to military tactics in aerial combat. To paraphrase, the objective is to defeat an enemy in combat, and survive, by operating at a tempo faster than their ability to effectively make their own decisions. An excellent introduction to the subject can be found within this wikipedia entry.

For a person in my position, this seems like useful strategy to employ. If you are in a similar situation and don't think it's good, then perhaps you married rich, are already otherwise financially independent, or you've got a better idea yourself. If that's the case I'd love to hear from you; let me in on your secret, please!

To illustrate the OODA Loop I've created a Data Flow Diagram. This is a notation by Tom DeMarco in his excellent book, Structured Analysis and System Specification. I've used this notation frequently, to great effect in my aerospace engineering days. Most other times I've seen it presented though, it's been in a classical flowchart style. Rather than just regurgitate that form, I thought a fresh look might be helpful.

In my next post I will outline how I've applied, and will continue to apply, this approach, to the ongoing process of recreating myself for my future.

Until then, if you've lacking for something constructive to do, at least start doing the first of the two O's – start observing your environment and your circumstances. What could be more important that being aware of where you're at?

Go at Throttle Up!

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

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If you know the meaning of this phrase, Go at Throttle Up!, it is because you are familiar with terminology associated with the launch of a Space Shuttle. Or at least you were back when that was a going concern. It is no longer; a going concern – that is. I have heard the phrase myself scores of times, but that’s because I am, or at least was, an Aerospace engineer. In fact the Space Shuttle program was my first job out of college as a recent graduate.

For as many times as I have heard the phrase I’ve always experienced it with a certain measure of awe, but for three times in particular it represents moments crystallized in time. More on that later.

First, let me describe what the phrase means, practically. As any rocket ascends though the atmosphere, the shuttle included, it accelerates towards the target height and velocity that is required to achieve orbit. In other words it has got to get high enough and fast enough to stay in orbit, otherwise it will simply fall back to earth. Since it started with zero velocity and has to get to a fast velocity, at each point in the ascent it is going ever faster. As for the atmosphere, it represents a continuum, from thick and dense at sea level, and becomes thinner as altitude increases until, it vanishes altogether, thus defining the boundary to space. So, the shuttle starts out slow, in a dense medium, and ends up going really fast in a vacuum. Problem is that between those extremes there is a phase when the speed is just fast enough, and the atmosphere just thick enough that, left unmitigated the vehicle will suffer structural damage. In proper aerospace engineering terminology, this region of flight is called Max Q, or maximum dynamic pressure.

space shuttle - DRAWING - go at throttle up

(original art by the author, cross-posted at http://larueart.blogspot.com/2012/06/goodness-knows.html )

The mitigation strategy is two-fold; the flight trajectory includes a roll maneuver shortly after liftoff to minimize angle-of-attack related drag, and, the three main engines are commanded to a reduced throttle setting, just low enough to slightly decrease acceleration until the Max Q region has passed. Once out of Max Q the engines are commanded back to full throttle, hence the in-flight confirmation over the mission control voice link – “Go at Throttle Up!”

It is important to note that when they come, those words are kind of a celebration – remember spaceflight is dangerous – spoken with a measure of relief. They denote that the most risky part of the ascent is over. Steady on to MECO (main engine cutoff), but the worst is behind us.

As for my moments of awe, the first came very early on an April morning, seemingly, a lifetime ago. A student of Aerospace Engineering at the time, I remember clearly the excitement of the launch, filled with anticipation of what it might be like to actually work on such a majestic project. Remember, this was at a time when the nation still brimmed with excitement at America’s accomplishments in space, and this was the dawn of a new era; I was certainly caught up as well – “Go at Throttle Up!

My second remembrance, which was symbolic of a handful more, came when I, a recent graduate, and new-hire, had the privilege of actually supporting day-of-launch activities, monitoring the Shuttle first-stage ascent, real-time from the Rockwell International (my first employer) mission support room in Downey California. Imagine my excitement, watching strip charts showing telemetered data, live, from the launch, and hearing those words, first-hand over the official voice link – “Go at Throttle Up!

Finally, in horror, disbelief and sorrow I heard the playback on the news, the day of the Challenger tragedy, in the winter of 1986. I had since taken a new job with Northrop to work on the B-2 Bomber, so I heard the news second-hand. Still, I had my roots in the Shuttle Program, and I had worked with several of the astronauts who perished that day. Ironically, the cause of that accident was traced to an o-ring failure in which solid rocket booster leakage acted as a torch to burn through the external fuel tank. This led to the catastrophic failure, after Max Q had passed, when the riskiest part of the ascent was supposedly behind, and everyone was relieved have already heard the words – “Go at Throttle Up!

When I took the job with Northrop I had switched disciplines to that of systems engineer, no longer involved with the hard science aspects of aerodynamics, flight control and propulsion. I was happy to fill the role of the systems engineer tackling a different part of the problem space. I was happy and privileged once again for the chance to work the premier aerospace project of its time. Fact is now though, I am no longer an Aerospace engineer, sub-discipline notwithstanding… I am simply me, an engineer by training, but no longer a professional in the field.

I am wondering if, in the continuum of my life, if that was the moment I stopped being an Aerospace engineer, that day in 1986. Many years of gainful employment and legitimate contributions and accomplishments followed, but still… was that the moment I was left to discover my future on my own, for myself, just as I am now, discovering my future, recreating myself. Was that the moment, the moment of passage? From present to future, from the realm of our atmosphere to the unknown that is space… was that that moment? – “Go at Throttle Up!