Friday, July 16, 2010

Why, yes, it *is* rocket science

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, in what seems a prior life, I worked on this, the RS-68 engine.

The last few times we've driven by the
Discovery Science Center (the one with the cube) in Santa Ana on the way down to Balboa Island, I'd see the banner for the Boeing Rocket Lab and think, "Oooooooooo". 

Note: I'm not a rocket geek. I can't recite rocket history and power rating numbers. Nope, sorry. I don't play with Estes rockets. I do, however, have a great sense of affection for my old rocket pals, support the idea of manned spaceflight, and really like all that fire and steam.

J had to go on a field trip and decided to check out the Discover Science Center. We dutifully checked out the exhibits on Grossology (The Impolite Science of the Human Body), the geology and earthquake exhibits (timely, as there had been one a few days before), the science of hockey, the TinkerToys, the dinosaurs.

"Gah!", I thought, as I got jostled by another little kid running around, "When are we going to get to the rocket engine part?!?"

There, in the cube ...
So, what's the deal with the cube? I had no idea. They didn't explain what the deal was with the cubeness of the cube, even, right there at the Science Center. You'd think they'd make a bigger deal of explaining about the cube, considering that it's SO BIG and it's what you see as you're zipping by on the freeway. And everybody identifies that science center as the one in Santa Ana with the cube. Or maybe I completely missed that placard. I finally checked online and uncovered that the cube is a solar Cube and produces energy for the Science Center.

Me: "Ohhhh".

From the Discovery Science Center website:
"There are three perfect 3D geometric shapes in nature: the sphere, the pyramid and the cube. [Me: and I've had to teach students to draw and shade them all]

Architecturally, the sphere has been built at Disneyworld and the pyramid has been built at the Louvre, the Luxor in Las Vegas and the California State University, Long Beach basketball arena.

The Cube has not been built before.

[I got to this point and thought, "Ever?! What about, oh, the Borg?! That's right, the Borg! Oh, that's in the future. Okay, never mind."]

Thus, Discovery Science Center architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Arquitectonica thought that The Cube would be the perfect icon for Orange County’s science center. The Board of Directors concurred and it was incorporated into the center’s plans."

We got to the cube and noticed it was leaking. They had caution cones around it: Mind your step. J says, "I wonder if it always leaks".

I peered through the perforated metal and went, "OOoooh, the rocket stuff is inside the cube". Hence the leakage.

The water-pressure propelled mini rocket display was cool and all, but it pales in comparison to the real thing as well as memories of real life-size Space Shuttle Main Engine tests.

Did you know the Space Shuttle program is coming to a close soon? Only two more Shuttle
launches, and then, what's next for U.S. manned spaceflight? What's next for all those rocket people?
:( When I was at Boeing, I remember them saying that the Shuttle program would end around 2010, and it seemed like a long ways off. Sort of how the year 2000 seemed like a long way off when I was in first grade. I could barely do the math; that was like 30 years away. Who could imagine? And yet, it happened. All of it happened, and here we are.

What's next up for U.S. manned spaceflight? If I were a real rocket geek, I'd know, huh? Thank goodness for the internet. J responded to my visible concern (he takes these things in stride - that I'd know about the end of the Shuttle program and was so concerned about manned spaceflight): "The U.S. would never stand for the idea of other countries launching astronauts while we weren't".

You think?

So there it was, that big ol' RS-68 engine. Wow. So cool.
J asks, "So, what kind of power do they get out of that?"

And all I could say was, "Gazillions, baby. Ga-zillions."

= = = Happy weekend, all! = = =