Engineers in Training

Sometimes I think that taking the exploration work we do to the public is as important for us as it is for them.

We'd cordoned off three sides of Morpheus at Space Center today to prevent unauthorized pinching, patting, or souvenir sampling of the lander. However, Tom Campbell, the Morpheus GNC hardware engineer, had the great idea to take kids that showed interest onesy-twosey down on the ground to look under the lander and see the rocket motor. The effect was striking. You could see the light in the kids' eyes after they got up from the baking concrete. They'd just seen a rocket engine that changes the temperature of its propellant almost 3000 degrees F in less than a foot and a half of travel.

Tom's words after one kid got up and walked away chatting to his parents:

"We just made another engineer."

Following his lead I showed some kids the motor after he left too. Near the end of our time I got up and was dusting myself off from showing a young girl the engine when a lady in her early 60's came hustling up breathlessly. She had 120 SPF sunblock on, a straw hat that was about 3 feet wide (almost a sombrero), a sloshing water bottle in one hand, a camera in the other, and about a 15 yard lead on her 8 year old grandson. "Mister," she said gasping for air, "can you PLEASE show my grandson what you just showed her?"
So, I crawled back under the rocket with the boy and we talked rockets and propulsion for the next five minutes. When we extricated ourselves from the lander, Grandmother was fit to pop with pride and Grandson started filling her in on the Morpheus engine design at about 120 words a minute.

As they drifted off into the crowd of people swirling around the exhibits, I considered that there are many kinds of exploration. While we are clawing away at trying to help gain a foothold beyond LEO as "professional NASA engineers", some people left Shuttlebration simply thinking about how they might work on rockets when they grow up….and so they began the exploration of their future as technicians, engineers, and scientists.

How do I know? My Dad put me on the roof of his office when I was 8 years old to watch the Shuttle land at Barksdale AFB. We saw it overhead for all of 30 seconds. That afternoon, I _KNEW_ I was going to work in space exploration someday and have been following that dream for over 30 years. It happens.

Anyway, the politics are frustrating and the future is uncertain at NASA. It usually is. But today we got to pay it forward and pay it back some to the folks outside the gate.

It was worth it.

Tim Crain

Dr. Timothy Crain
Project Morpheus GN&C Lead

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