A Tribute to Neil Armstrong

America lost our greatest hero last month! Neil Armstrong will go down in the history books as our first cosmic explorer. He was the first to leave our comfortable planet in the name of exploration so that he would be the first human being and American to place a footprint onto the surface of Earth’s only Moon. This was America’s and the world’s greatest technical achievement of that 1969 era, and some argue that it still leads all technical accomplishments today.

Neither President Kennedy nor any of us had any precedent or technical reason to believe that America was ready to leave Earth’s orbit with precious human cargo, let alone take a person to the Moon and land him softly onto the lunar surface and then within three days, send him back to Earth where he would come racing towards Earth in an engulfing fireball at 25,000 miles per hour followed by a successful parachute  deployment and ocean landing and capsule/astronaut retrieval. Keep in mind that no precursor unmanned missions had occurred, and we did not know how the rocket and complex systems would work. It is an amazingly complex machine.

A friend of mine best described it: “It is not that complicated if you break it down, it is just millions of uncomplicated things that have to work perfectly as a whole!” Anyway, that is what three amazing American heroes decided to sit on top of with over 6 million pounds of highly explosive rocket fuel. As it would turn out, things did not work perfectly for all six Apollo Moon landings, but they worked well enough to allow 12 Americans to walk, run, drive, and even hit a golf ball on the Moon. That journey turned out to be an incredible moving experience for Neil, and he would not come back to Earth the same.

It was expected that all Apollo astronauts would serve their country by going to the Moon, come home for a hero’s welcome, and then continue to serve and inspire those who would follow. Being the first man to ever walk on the Moon was as big as it gets in the 20th century, and the aftermath would have fed the egos of most men. This was not the case with Neil; he became the silent hero and was humble and honored to have been serving our nation. I had the opportunity to meet Neil and actually talk to him for a brief period. He was definitely a humble man, and I was blown away considering whose hand I was shaking and the contribution he made to our country and so many of us!

Godspeed, Neil Armstrong! You will be missed!

Experiencing Commercial Space Up Close and Personal

I’ve had a chance recently to make some cool trips. I found myself in Mojave, California, earlier this month at a Mojave Makers workshop. I was asked to be a guest speaker and share my Mojave, Huntsville, past and future experiences. It was a lot of fun! It had been a long time since I have been to Mojave. It has changed a lot! I worked there for Scaled Composites back in the 2000-2001 timeframe.

Back to the Maker talk: If you are not familiar with the “Maker” movement, you should be. The idea is that people who like to innovate, design, and build cool projects often cannot afford a full-fledged workshop by themselves. What usually happens is a “Makers” group is established in a region with the intent of providing a central hub for people to pursue cool projects. People can join the Makers group and have 24-hour access for a fixed monthly fee. That fee will gain each member full access to pursue projects at the shop and use any available equipment with which to construct their project. People are building robots, rovers, rocket engines, etc. I saw lots of folks there that I knew from Scaled, Masten, The SpaceShip Company, Xcor, etc. I even got to speak with Dick Rutan. He is a hero and legend in the world of experimental successes. He is best known for flying Voyager around the world without stopping! He is a great guy. He teaches flying to students in Mojave.

The day after the Maker event, I had an opportunity to return to Scaled Composites and visit a few friends. I was working as lead propulsion engineer many years ago, and it was interesting to return and see old friends. They happened to be having their 30th Anniversary Lunch at Scaled. They had many of the Scaled aircraft out on the flightline. I saw an old friend named White Knight One, which was used to drop SpaceShipOne. I also talked to Pete Siebold who was pilot of SS1. He told me that Saturday morning he would be flying White Knight Two for a Virgin Galactic glide test. Well, that test happened, and it went great. It was great to see Scaled still pushing the envelope. It did not seem the same though without Burt Rutan’s antics and energy. I miss Burt.

I also got to visit Masten Aerospace and see David Masten. He gave me a great tour of the shop. I got to meet the crew. They are doing amazing stuff with landers. They made a successful flight last week before my visit. I got to touch two landers that have both flown. I felt like I was touching some cool history.

As I drove around the Mojave airport, I saw a lot of new construction. Many huge windmills were everywhere and were being installed on the west side of town. I saw the new Stratolaunch building being constructed, and not far from it was the Space Ship Company, which is where Richard Branson will build the production version of SS2 that Scaled is under contract to develop.

There is so much I could say about how cool Mojave is and how much fun I had.

I may have to save my Bigelow visit for another blog, but that was amazing too!

Anyway, commercial space is alive and well! Keep looking up!