Friday, July 19, 2019

The Rocket Scientist

Where were you on July 16, 1969? Most people were gathered around their small televisions to watch grainy live footage of Neil Armstrong take his “first small step for a man, and one giant leap for mankind.”  We sat our 18-month-old son on a kids-sized chair in front of the TV so he could see history in the making.

The USA celebrated the three men launched by the Saturn rocket who made their way to lunar orbit and the two men who walked on the moon’s surface.  Little did I know that twenty-seven years later that I would marry a rocket scientist who worked on the Apollo program to make the moon walk possible.

For two and a half years—from 1964-1967--Charles worked with Lockheed Missiles & Space in Huntsville, Alabama on two engineering challenges of the Saturn V rocket. They were both unsteady aerodynamic problems that could cause grave structural damage to the launch vehicle.  He explained these problems to me several times before I could understand them enough to share them with you.

The Saturn V was so light and limber, the engineers described it as a “wet noodle.” Like a flagpole in the wind, oscillating vortex flows from strong ground winds could cause the whole vehicle to shake from side to side and fall off the launch pad. Charles’ experience in aerodynamics prepared him to learn about these unsteady oscillating air flows.

The second challenge concerned the small rocket or launch escape system on top of the Apollo command module. The concern was it would vibrate excessively and cause the Saturn V rocket to wobble and come apart during takeoff. His group had to measure the oscillating frequency of the launch escape system to see how much it would shake the whole vehicle.

The research conducted by the Lockheed engineers contributed to NASA’s understanding of what to expect during the lunar mission. It was fortunate none of these problems occurred and the launch and return to earth was successful. According to Charles, it was challenging work where he learned mathematical principles that apply to his vortex control work today.

Scientific research by unsung heroes who did the grunt work necessary for a successful effort made the moon landing possible. Much of life is like that.  It’s the behind-the-scenes folks who care for the sick, teach the children, and keep the office running (to name a few) who make it possible for others to succeed.

During this third week of July as you gaze into the sky and enjoy the Full Moon, or as others call it the Hay Moon, the Buck Moon, or the Wort Moon, remember this quote by President Ronald Reagan.

“There is no limit to the amount of good you can do,
if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

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