rockets make rainbows

I’ve been working at Stennis for a little over a a year now, and have worked at various NASA facilities off and on for the last 6 years, and whenever a friend asks me about “rocket fuel” they do it in hushed tones with the occasional glance over their shoulder. As if it were some national secret, and that if it were, I would somehow have the 411 and give them the insider scoop so long as they keep it on the DL… Well you are all in luck! I am going to let you in on a little secret, ssshhh! Ok, come a little closer to your computer monitor, we don’t want your coworkers overhearing what you’re reading. Ready?… Most rocket fuel is almost entirely liquid oxygen and/or liquid hydrogen. Surprise! 

So while LOX and LH2 are amazing and beautiful, what many people think about is that rockets are powered by water. Yup. Water. Granted you have to separate it, and bring it down to liquid temperatures, but nonetheless these aren’t exotic materials; they are completely sustainable and clean burning.

So the cloud you see forming as the exhaust of a rocket engine is literally a could. Not to mention that when we are testing rocket engines we quench the flame with nearly 1 million gallons of water per minute. So after any test on site it rains immediately after, usually right on top of all of the people standing around watching it; and when the conditions are right, the exhaust creates rainbows. So there you are, probably the coolest way to make a rainbow.

ROCKETS MAKE RAINBOWS

here is a video I took of the RS-68 test yesterday that led to the above image.

And here are a few more photos in case you want more 😉

and for those that are curious, this is what it sounds like inside the building where I work during the test.

Adam Savage’s advice on how to find a job you love, get noticed, and get a better job that you love

Adam Savage at Maker Faire 2013

“What is the practical reality facing young people entering the wider world, and making and wondering what they can do with making? The practical reality is that the jobs market is a tough one. Finding a job that feeds you creatively is even harder. The middle class is disappearing and the competition is fierce. I have no idea how good each of you are individually as makers. I don’t know what skills you have or are capable of learning, but I do have advice. I have advice about how you can improve yourself, be employable, find a job you love, get noticed, and get better jobs that you love, and it’s really this simple: Work hard and work smart”

I have always loved Maker Faire. Unfortunately I’ve never been able to attend anything larger than a Mini-Maker Faire. I’ve also been a fan of Mythbusters since day one. More than Mythbusters I’m a huge fan Adam Savage, the things he does on Tested and all of the education and outreach that he does for science and art. Every year since I first hear about the SF Maker Faire I’ve said “I’m going next year”. After watching this video (and re-watching his presentation from previous years), I am definitely going next year. And I highly encourage everyone to give me a hard time about it next year starting in March, so I have extra incentive to follow through. Below are the notes I took from his speach. You can read them, or just watch the first 15 minutes. Enjoy.

Work hard and work smart means many things.

  • Be present
    • Work on what’s in front of you
    • Most of work is boring. You earn the right to do the 10% that’s fun by doing the 90% that is soul crushing
  • Don’t waste your time or your employers time
    • Know the big picture
    • When you start to ask questions, like when you start any skill, you aren’t going to be very good at it. It is a skill you need to develop by continually asking for clarification.
    • When you save your employer money and time by asking the right questions they will notice.
  • Working hard and smart means collaborating
    • “Jamie and I transfer information through a process we call arguing.”
    • Working collaboratively means having humility
    • It means giving up your idea because a better one came up
  • Working hard and smart means communication
    • Ask: Better to be wrong and say something than to be right and keep it to yourself.
    • If you’re going to surf the web at work, hide, please.
    • Mistakes slow you down far more than slowing down does.
  • Working hard and smart means finishing the job that you started
    • Your goal shouldn’t just be to finish the thing in front of you, times 50; it means finishing all 50.
    • When I find a finisher I make sure to keep them around as long as I can.
  • Working hard and smart doesn’t require actually being smart.
    • Being smart isn’t nearly enough
    • If you lukewarm the performance of your job it doesn’t matter how smart you are, no one will notice.
    • Bust your ass
  • As an employee you might not feel like your supervisors know what you’re doing. If you are working hard and smart they will notice.
    • People who work hard like that are hard to find, inspire everyone around them to work harder, enjoy their work more and enjoy working well with others, save time and money and become invaluable.
  • Some may not notice. Some may not want you to know the big picture; some may tell you to shut up when you ask those questions. Don’t work for those people.

“I’m not saying that any of this is easy. In fact it’s absolutely the opposite, but I’m saying that working hard and smart means that your work will be more satisfying, you will advance fast and you will enjoy the work that you are doing and you will do better work.”

This started out as me taking notes on his speech, I thought I was paraphrasing a lot, but looking back a lot of those sentences are direct quotes. I’m not sure which is which. So the parts I took particular care to quote are in italics. My full notes are here but it would be faster to watch the first 15ish minutes of the video than read my notes. Sometime between minutes 15 & 17 he starts answering questions, most of them are good. One of them I felt strongly enough about that I quote it here with a portion of the thoughts that went through my head when I first heard it.

Q: “Would you consider yourself an artist or a scientist?”

A: “What a great question! I don’t think there’s any difference.”

At first I balked at this a little, but then I realized that aside from how widely “The Scientific Method” is used, I completely agree. My first thought after overcoming my knee jerk reaction, was that the world would be a better place if more artists understood the scientific method. Then I realized the world would be a better place if all people understood the scientific method. The same is true of teaching everyone the same creativity that is nurtured in artists.

* Image at top of page courtesy of Kyle Nishioka via flickr

I don’t love math… It’s just a theory.

Prize awarded for largest mathematical proof – physics-math – 09 September 2011 – New Scientist

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20893-prize-awarded-for-largest-mathematical-proof.html

I love numbers and science, their simplicity and absoluteness. In an equation, if it is solvable, then there is a rational explanation for the solution. In many cases there is only one correct answer. All of my favorite science and engineering puzzles are this way. With one elegant indisputable solution. Unfortunately life is not always, or even usually, this way. Possibly why I love hard science (not soft science like psychology or part of biology) so much. It is ordered and logical, once you finally figure it out.

Up until today I thought I like math. I was actually under the impression that I enjoyed math itself. Until I read the above article and realized that the thought of numbers and equations that take up hundreds of thousands of pages, decades, and dozens of Ph.Ds to solve. It gave me a headache just thinking about math that complex. I’m not saying that I couldn’t read Aschbacher’s 1200 page paper and understand most of it. Granted it may take me as long to fully understand it as it took him to write it. But the thought of having a job like his filled me with dread. Which to me was odd, because if I truly LOVED numbers and math as I thought I did, I should relish the thought of diving into a pool of unsolved mathematical mystery and emerging with buried treasure. But I don’t. At least not on that scale.

What I realized is that I love numbers when their solutions result in actionable knowledge. If I use regression or integration to determine when a condition is at it’s best/worst or simply IS, and that knowledge means that this doohickey should be like ‘this’, or made out of ‘that’, or is ‘something’. I’m not saying that their solution doesn’t MEAN something. It means A LOT, and generations from now, their theorem will effect the way things work that the average person doesn’t even know exist despite depending on them. But when that equation was solved they didn’t then run out and MAKE something. It simply was a completed equation.

I LOVE puzzles, but what I really love are solutions and MAKING things. Not simply making them, but making them better than before. I love research, and part of all science is hypothesis and theory. But I could not live in a world of theory, where solutions aren’t actionable outside the world of more theory.