Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Rocket Scientist Friend

by David G. Woolley
My friend, Scott, happens to be a rocket scientist. Everyone should be so lucky to have at least one rocket scientist friend. The guy is a genius. And his four sons are little geniuses in waiting. Just ask his wife Diana. Or the grandparents.

After chasing a Ph.D. all over the country Scott settled down at ULA. I don't know what that means exactly. It has something to do with rockets, terrorists, the CIA, and home teaching. This week he sent out an announcement about a rocket launch. Lucky for me I haven't been banned from his family email group. Yet.

It went something like this:

For those who are interested, a Delta IV Heavy rocket (our biggest rocket and the one that I work on) will be launching from Cape Canaveral tomorrow (Jan 13) evening at around 7:49 pm EST. Our boys enjoyed watching the last ULA rocket launch, so I thought I would pass along this info in case your kids (or possibly even you) might be interested. This rocket will be launching a National Reconnaissance Office satellite in support of the military's national defense mission. In other words, this satellite will be taking pictures of you as you mow your lawn in your back yard, as well as pictures of Osama Bin Laden building nuclear weapons in Afghanistan.

Didn't I tell you this guy is brilliant? But he's this average Joe like, well, me, except that I'm not bald and my emails lack any evidence of formal schooling. So its pretty hard to believe that he actually does what he claims he does. I responded to his email with this:

Cool photos Scott. Where did you get the real-life looking flames and the menacing background sky? Does it come with the kit? The ones at wal-mart do. I'll bet you and the boys have a lot of fun chasing it down after the parachute opens.

I hope you're not like some of the nut cases I run into here. These wanna-be brainiacs show up at the park with their I'm-so-cool rocket launchers while the rest of us are trying to enjoy the park. Don't they know its not safe? I chased one self proclaimed rocket scientist right back to the parking lot. He was launching like five ULA IV Heavy Rockets right in the middle of the play ground. Can you believe that? What a jerk.

Instead of replying with some of his infamous wit, or a dash of sarcasm he sends a methodical, calculated, emotionless, detached, hum-drum, almost aloof, but all too expected rocket scientist email like this:

Unfortunately, the launch has been postponed. The new launch window is Thursday, Jan 15, 7:41-11:41 pm EST. Prior to filling the rocket tanks with liquid hydrogen and oxygen, the tanks are purged with gaseous nitrogen, because the extremely cold temperature of the liquid propellants would cause the water in the air to condense. A gaseous nitrogen relief valve was not working properly, necessitating the delay of the launch so the valve could be fixed.

This is the first time in the 17 launches we've had since I joined ULA that the launch has been delayed on the day it was scheduled. It, of course, had to happen the one time that I email family about the launch. Sorry about the delays.

That was it. A memo-like response. No self depreciating rocket scientist humor. So I fired this email off without considering any of the consequences:

I don't mean to burst Scott's fantasy rocket scientist bubble, but here's a quick glossary of terms and phrases that may help you understand his recent launch emails:

1. Launch has been postponed.

Translation: Diana (Scott's wife) made me and the boys stay inside and clean our rooms

2. New Launch Window.

Translation: We tried sneaking out the backdoor.

3. Purge tanks with gaseous nitrogen.

Translation: Before we sneaked out the back door I made the boys use the bathroom.

4. Cold temperature of liquid propellants causes the water in the air to condense.

Translation: Spray Lysol when finished purging.

5. Necessitating a launch delay to fix the valve.

Translation: Where is that plunger?

6. The first time in 17 launches since I joined ULA that a launch has been delayed.

Translation: We got busted going out the backdoor.

7. It happened the one time I emailed my family.

Translation: Mom and Dad, can you please have a talk with my wife?

There you have it. The complete guide to understanding emails from a self proclaimed rocket scientist. Lets hope that rocket launches today or this could get ugly.

So what are the rest of you doing these days? Not that I would twist your words or your world around or anything.

Just curious.

Join author David G. Woolley at his Promised Land Website.


Stephanie Humphreys said...

Funny. :) Remind me not to send you any emails like that.

Noelle said...

Dave, Dave, Dave...

I think you have too much time on your hands. But thanks for the laugh!

Wight Family said...

That was awesome.

My dad was an engineer for Thiokol and NASA back in the day. I loved hearing the engineer lingo, the dryness makes me crave crackers... but then I remember I LOVE cheese on my crackers and that being dry is so crackly.

Thanks for the laughs! Good luck on the launch, that thing looks mean!

bon said...

Good to know you're still upright and conscious...and funny! But then, you always were...funny, that is.

Sandra said...

Bon, funny as in funny ha-ha or funny you need to make an appointment? or maybe even "this milk smells funny".

Sandra said...

Sorry, David- that wasn't nice of me. My brother works for ATK (Thiokol) and I wonder if he oversaw the production of this particular rocket. He is production manager or something important sounding like that. Hmmmm, I'll have to ask him, about both the name of his position and the rocket.

I have always wanted to see a rocket launched, maybe you could tell me what park you hang out at and I could watch the jerk with 5 rockets sometime.

Jennie said...

Fun blog, Dave. Watch it or you may wind up running competition with our mutual friend Rob.

bon said...


Yes. 'Nuff said. ;>

David G. Woolley said...

Hi Everone:

I've been on the road with a soccer team. Good to be back. Rocket Science has its quirks, but all in all, its a pretty down to earth profession.

jwoolley said...

Hi Dave. Welcome back. Loved your funny post. My dad was a systems engineer for the Air Force in the 60s and worked in the space program, so rockets were his life. He went to Cape Canaveral many times for launches. Thanks for bringing back the memories.(And he did launch mini rockets in the back yard with my brothers.)

Tiff said...

How disappointing not to be able to launch the rocket...and you just have to rub it in. It's good that you are friends, so that he knows how to deal with you.