Lessons Amid the Rubble.
Look around you, what do you see? For one, the screen you're reading this on, you see the interior structure of the building you're in. Or how about that phone you keep checking more than you should?. You are utterly engulfed in an ocean of commodities that reflect the astuteness of past and present engineers from around the globe.
In her introductory chapter of "Lessons Amid the Rubble", Pfatteicher describes the field of engineering as contradictory. First, let us start off with a simple definition; Con·tra·dic·tion: something containing elements which are inconsistent or in conflict. With that being said, the inconsistent elements that are being intricately balanced here is the element of perfection and also that of ambiguity, or the unknown.
Pfatteicher goes on to say that she is "endlessly fascinated by the seemingly impossible combination of characteristics engineers exhibit" (Pfatteicher, p.7). It is not only the unknown and preciseness that is interwoven in engineering but the engineers themselves must possess polar opposite characteristics in order to be successful. Such as being heedful, and aventados, which in my country means fearless.
The second week of lecture, we ventured into the topic of design and risk. This is the paragraph in which "design" and "contradictory" tie the knot. Let's lose ourselves for a minute... Let's say you are sitting on a park bench on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with nothing to worry about except your pistachio almond waffle cone melting way too fast, and out of nowhere something that looks like an airplane wing zooms by. What the heck was that? I'll tell you what that was, a bicycle. Not just any bicycle, but a bicycle completing in IHPVA speed challenge (International Human Powered Vehicle Association). These bikes are made with the primary goal of "pushing the limits in regards to human powered vehicles" (Composites World Skibba, 2017)
Back to the wedding ceremony, in order for this design to be efficient; the bicycle must be both utilitarian and safe. It must meet the expectations it was primarily built for, which is astonishing speed and also ensure the safety of the rider. Two polar opposites, that must go hand in hand in order to give this bad boy a winning chance. Which in fact it did, the Canadian Aerovelo holds the record of the fastest human power vehicle on earth traveling at 89.59 mph (Battle Mountain World Human-Powered Speed Challenge, 2016).
Speaking of victories, remember Apollo 11? The first spacecraft to land on the moon? It was launched from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Something else was recently launched into orbit from that historic launch pad, the "Falcon Heavy", which is the most powerful operational rocket in the world (CNN Tech 2018). The rockets thrust was compared to the equivalence of eighteen 747 jetliners (CNN Tech, 2018) or three times the thrust of that of the Falcon 9; An astonishing 22,800 kN of pure thrust.
Of course, with this rocket, came many risks. Risks such as boosters interfering with each other were a probability (Wall Street Journal, 2018) Another risk they were faced with the boosters alone was the detachment process itself; they were never tested in space prior to the launch, as it is nearly impossible to do so. In Musks own words he says " it's really a miracle that the rocket holds together at all" (CNN Tech, 2018)
Looking for more risks, I found the golden nugget for the Falcon Heavy rocket. An article published by Tom Ward, titled "The Risk of Failure" In which he emphasizes on the worst case scenario of the rocket; which would be losing yet another launch pad. Which not only affect the rocket itself, but it would delay SpaceX's launch manifest (Futurism, 2017) the launch pad 39A is the only pad being prepared for crew launch.
At the SSR&D Conference held in July, Musk mentions yet another risk that the FH faced; and that was harmonic issues since the vibrations were tripled compared to their previous launches. The intensity of these vibrations can cause hardware damage.
As Pfatteicher mentions in her book, in the mid-nineteenth century failure was seen as a lack of expertise, but now failure is perceived as the price of progress. Musk, like every other engineer, has made mistakes along the way. The importance does not lie in the mistake, but the lesson learned from it. Failure is not only inevitable, but it is imperative.
The Falcon Heavy was not something developed overnight, in fact, it took approximately five years for it to to get launched into orbit. When it was first announced in early April of 2011; it was set to launch in the year 2013. As we all know, the Falcon Heavy was actually launched earlier this month. Why? Because there were lessons yet to be learned. They were not ready.
So the Falcon Heavy, looking on the outside in; merely seems like three falcon 9's strapped together to make a single massive rocket. But in Musks own words, it was wayyyy harder than they anticipated. They learned many lessons from their falcon cousins, one being that it would be more reliable if it was launched in a way that the outer cores top off that of the mid-core; so as the side boosters emptied the center booster would still be full. (Braun, 2017)
SpaceX's previous mistakes eventually lead to a successful launch of the FH on the afternoon of February 6. Fellow homosapians, we have yet again witnessed the work of extremely gifted engineers making what at some point seemed impossible, freaking possible.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) we have also witnessed recent engineering disasters. In 2013 a building in Philly was being demolished, and actually collapsed on top a Salvation Army store next door; taking the lives of six people.
According to CNN, the person to blame was primarily the crane worker at the time of the incident. Which, of course, could have been one of the factors that caused the wreckage being that he was "allegedly" under the influence of drugs (CNN, 2013). 6 fatalities and 13 injuries is undeniably a hard pill to swallow. In the midst of it all, the public was looking for someone to blame, and on that list was also 52 year old Ronald Wagonhaffer; the demolition inspector. Whom like Charles Collin, the inspector of the Dixon bridge (Pfatteicher, p.41)... committed suicide.
However, the incompetent workers were not the only contributions to this disaster. According to Robert Brehem, a construction engineer, two things could have prevented this outcome. 1. There should have been a temporary wall support in between the adjacent building (CBS/AP, 2013) 2. There should have never been people allowed in the building next door during demolition because a collapse was, in fact, a possible outcome.
Rather than playing the blaming game, If one good thing came out of this collapse, it was the stricter reforms enforced upon post demolition buildings by the state of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, it is the price to pay for progression. This comes to show that there are in fact “Lessons Amid the Rubble”.
And of course, you know I cant end my essay without plugging a predictable quote...
"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently."
- Henry Ford