Saturday, July 5, 2014

Just a Bit of Rocket Science

It's only rocket science and not even a lot of rocket science. It's just a bit of rocket science and the rest is counting beans, pennies, unhatched chickens, and whatever else you can fit into a quarterly report.

It's electronics and code. Sure. It's wiring up a little gizmo to test another gizmo that might be used to validate the concept for a subsystem in an engineering model which they're gonna build half-way across the country five years from now. But if there's any rocket science it will be just a bit of rocket science and it's nothing you need to be worried about.

It's project planning. Yes. It's planning to plan for implementing a ConOps under five different circumstances for each subsystem. It's planning for an engineer who needs to remake a harness three times before he gets it right. It's planning for the systems engineer to walk in and say she has a new plan and so no one needs to worry about that harness anymore, which the project manager has to plan for in itself. But you don't really need to plan any rocket science, and if for some reason you do if will be just a bit of rocket science and you can just consult the systems spreadsheets and find a place to squeeze it in.

It's testing. Of course. It's testing everything in every way and then some. It's coming up with failure modes God himself couldn't and then a way to fix them with three pipe cleaners, superglue, and a rubber band (and it's making sure there's an extra pipe cleaner just in case). But you don't need rocket science for testing, and even if you do it will be just a bit of rocket science and you can review the literature to learn it.

It's documentation. Without a doubt. It's documenting the fact that you documented the interface between a plug and an outlet which was used by an intern on the third floor for a week three months ago. It's documenting the conversation you had half-drunk at the bar with your PI about potentially contacting a company to help manufacture the chassis for a payload instrument which wont be finalized for another 4 years and 6 reviews. But if you have to document any rocket science, it will be just a bit of rocket science and its going to be vetted and expanded by eight other people so you don't need to write too much about it.

It's reviews. Absolutely. It's having to do N+1 PDRs, CDRs, and FRRs after you've already done N for all numbers N. It's making slides and wearing your nicest suit. It's public speaking. It's humoring dumb questions and faking your way through good ones. But no one's going to ask you about rocket science because no one wants to hear about rocket science and plus everyone knows rocket science already so why would they need to ask you? But if for some unimaginable reason they do ask you about rocket science it will be just a bit of rocket science and you really shouldn't go overboard.

And then, at the end of it all, you fly out to the launch facility and see your work ready to be fired upward at hundreds of times the force of gravity. Your heart jumps into your mouth as they count down for what seems like an eternity, until finally the motors ignite and the launch vehicle, pristine and elegant, raises itself into the sky and finally beyond. And at that moment you realize it was rocket science, every bit of it. You realize you and everyone else did a lot of rocket science with just a bit of rocket science, and that rocket science wasn't as simple an idea as it had been made out to be. Because it's not explosions, or engines, or nozzles that make rockets. It's people, it's politics, it's reviews, it's documentation, and it's everything you ever learned in science and math and then some. It's just a bit of rocket science and a lot of everything else in life, the universe, and everything.

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