Multiplanetary Species

Recently, at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, Elon Musk announced his vision to turn mankind into a multi-planetary species. Like most of his visions, it’s a big, hairy, audacious dream: To build reusable spacecraft that can carry a 100,000 kg to Mars. That’s an earth-shatteringly big dream; which is typical for Mr. Musk.

In the video above, you can see the major pieces of the Interplanetary Transport System. It relies on two major orbital vehicles: a crew transporter and fuel transporter. The two vehicles will rendezvous in Earth orbit much like the Agena and Gemini spacecraft, then the crew transporter will tank in orbit, and then fly to Mars. The heavy lifter rocket and fuel transporter will both then return to the launch pad for recovery, repair, and return to service.

When they pull it off, it has the potential to reduce the overall costs of space travel as well as pushing mankind forward. And I think SpaceX is in the perfect niche to do that. My only criticism is I wish they had more competition. While Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is working towards a similar goal, they are farther behind than SpaceX. We are sitting on the precipice of the next major step in man’s technological progression, much like we were at the turn of the 20th Century when multiple different companies and individuals were competing to make the first airplane. I firmly believe that only through cutthroat competition can we truly push to make interplanetary travel a reality. And I think NASA and all of the other government space agencies are not the right answer. To make the next leap, we will need to have the complete monetization of Space and that’s something only Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and the wild-eyed, audacious dreamers of the future are capable of doing.

 

Call The Shots

My day job involves hunting submarines. It’s a highly scientific process that, like most Naval Warfare requires a healthy amount of wild ass guesses and improvisation because the real world rarely conforms to the neat formulas of the classroom and laboratory. The actual tracking and prosecution of a submarine by surface and air assets requires an entire team of watchstanders to operate the SONARs and interpret the data that they provide. My job is to form all of that information into single picture of the battlespace and then determine how to maneuver the ship in order to sink the submarine or at least defend other ships in the area.

As in most leadership positions, mine is largely an exercise in communication and decision-making.  The decision-making portion can be the most aggravating at times. Communication usually takes care of itself, but the processing of the vast amounts of data coming from all of the different pieces of the puzzle can be aggravating. Often times the data is contradictory or doesn’t fit the projected models neatly. And sometimes, my adversary does something completely unpredictable that doesn’t jive tactically. This causes frustration, just as all decision-making can.

But sometimes you have to stand back, look at everything in front of you, and then trust your gut because it’s your job to make decisions. In the Anti-Submarine Warfare world that requires focusing on the information you know, trying to make logical inferences based upon your understanding of your enemy’s tactics, and then doign something; anything. Theodore Roosevelt was famous for saying: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

This holds true in all avenues of leadership. Your people look up to you for a decision. That’s the reason you were put on this earth, to provide them direction in moments of crisis, when their ability to chart a course of action fails them. It can maddeningly difficult at times, but you have to do it, and no amount of hand-wringing or garment-wrenching will save you from it. So simply put, make the decision, break that institutional inertia, and then make course corrections as necessary afterwards in order to achieve your end goals.

Why Is STEM Education So Boring?

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve received the response of  “That’s cool; I’d be an engineer too if it weren’t for all of the science[math/drudgery/chemistry/fill in the blank],” I’d probably be driving a brand, spankin’ new Lamborghini Aventador with all of the trimmings. But usually all I get are excuses about why somebody would rather cover up the harsh truth than just admit that they weren’t passionate about science in order to pursue an education or career in it. But I do agree on one point and one point only: Unless you’re a huge nerd (I’m only a moderately-sized one), science can be a bit boring and dry. This is why I’ve always been a fan of people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, and Richard Feynman. These men had the ability (Dr. Tyson still does) to encapsulate the wonderment and awe that accompanies the pursuit of scientific discovery. Professor Tyson does an exceptional job in this video:

It’s that sense of grandeur that propels those of us who consider ourselves scientists and engineers and mathematicians to continue to explore the world and universe around us. It’s the same feeling that I get when I take things apart just to see how they work. The same feeling that I feel when I look up at the night sky, while far out to sea, and gaze upon the might Milky Way.

If we could but impart this same feeling to each and every one of our children, we’d create so much more interest in STEM education.

One Small Step For Man. . .

A young Neil Armstrong sits on a panel upon the announcement of his selection into the Astronaut Corps.

Neil Armstrong died yesterday. When I learned of his passing, I  was near tears. Professor Armstrong served as an inspiration for me, alongside his peers Gene Cernan, Jim Lovell, and John Young. His skill as an aviator and expertise as an engineer were exceptional. He was also a man of unfathomable humility, who upon retiring from the space program, returned to his homestate of Ohio and began teaching engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He was never one to publicize himself and he valued his privacy highly. He was one-of-a-kind, and the world is truly a lesser place with his presence gone.

A few years before he passed, he testified before Congress along with Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. In it, he made the case for a push by the government to support NASA and to create a coherent and bold strategy for the manned spaceflight program.

And this is Neil Armstrong’s legacy, as it should be. His actions on July 20, 1969 serve as inspiration to millions and have served as the motivation for countless millions, myself included, to act boldly and do what we can to make the world a better place and push humanity forward. And if there is anything we should do to honor his memory, it is to take bold action and take the next step in expanding the boundaries of human knowledge and discovery.