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Should've Stayed In Physics

  1. Jun 23, 2015 #1
    "Those who love the law and sausage should never watch either being made." -- Otto Von Bismarck

    The same goes for America's Space Program.

    Howdy! I stumbled across the Physics Forum just today, and it looks like a nice place to be. I am a retired (actually unemployed, but old enough to be retired, and it sounds better) aerospace engineer. Way back when I was in college, I switched from majoring in Physics to go to the Big University to major in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering because of the repeated ominous warning: There Are No Jobs in Physics.

    Besides, I was quite a space enthusiast at the time. The Apollo program was still ongoing and the hypesters in the television news talked as if it would continue and develop forever.

    So, I got to the Big U just in time for the (then) biggest Aerospace industry crash in history! Big Mistake #1, the first of series of many more to come over the next 40 years.

    Crash, schmash; I graduated two years later and got a job anyhow. There were no space jobs, but developing aircraft flight control systems was quite enjoyable. Seven years later, while I living in a city I really like with a job where I looked forward to going to work every day, I got a call from a recruiter looking to staff up jobs working on the Space Shuttle down in Houston. Once again, the muse of the space program was wiggling her tail and me, and once again, I fell for it. Big Mistake #2.

    Working on NASA programs was quite enjoyable; but the work itself was mostly unpleasant. Back then, I enjoyed the people I got to work with and my own conceptions about the importance and romance of the program made up for a lot. But more and more over the years, NASA went from emphasis on space exploration to emphasis on politics, and today, every bit of the agency is overwhelmed by politics. Except for maintenance of a few programs that this administration has not been able to cancel, America no longer has anything that you could call a space program.

    No one appreciates your sacrifice or your service. You're there to be chargeable labor; and unless you have knack for politics, nothing more.

    Darn. I should have stayed in Physics back then, and maybe picked up a masters in Mechanical Engineering if there was no way to earn a living in pure science. Harsh lessons learned.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 24, 2015 #2
    That may be the case but you can't change the past now. So maybe instead you can go back and find out more about what you missed out on. :smile: Welcome to PF and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!
    :wink:
     
  4. Jun 24, 2015 #3
    Thanks! Despite the unpleasant experience of seeing America's space program cast into insignificance for purely political reasons, it still leaves me with treasured memories. Putting huge mockups of space station parts into the water tank and having astronauts evaluate the tasks they'll need to do to put the thing together. Staying up all night at the mockups with the first Russian cosmonaut to fly on the space shuttle, teaching him all I could about the space station so that he wouldn't look bad in comparison to the Americans. Long hours at the mission support room in the mission control center. Learning all about the space shuttle and teaching astronauts and flight controllers how to fly it. Seeing what a mess a Space Shuttle looks like on the launch pad and thinking, "If that were an airplane that I had a ticket for, I wouldn't go aboard it." The sights and sounds of Florida beaches seen from the top floor of the launch control tower on Pad 39-A. Huge dust bunnies piled up on the girders of the clean room of the vertical processing facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Being admonished by the bean counters for only spending a quarter of my budget and then a few weeks later, being the hero when I could return 24 million dollars to the program when there was a budget crisis. Even watching to first take-off of the YC-14 and saying, "Wow! That ugly ol' thing really can fly!"

    I've been thinking about it quite a bit, and in truth, I think if I had it to do all over, I would have majored in archeology and made mass-market films about ancient times. If I'd stayed in Physics, I would have gone to get a master's and PhD in planetary science; maybe with a geology degree of some flavor to round things out. But now, at the age of 65, options are quite limited. I do enjoy digging out all the YouTube videos on archeology and ancient history.

    I remember discussions back in 1969 in the physics students' lounge at Knox College, where we heard discouraging words like "We know all that will ever be known about Physics. There aren't any jobs available and never will be." Of course, being young and naïve, I didn't know better than to believe the nay-says. In retrospect, that was so incredibly silly, reminiscent of European scientists in the days before Einstein who even then believed that they knew everything that would ever be known. Even now, we can measure all kinds of things and make our mathematical models and find traces of mysterious characteristics of the universe, strong forces and weak forces and gravity waves and mesons and muons, but as for exactly how any of those things actually work, we're still looking for those answers on the periodic chart somewhere between geranium and gymnasium.
     
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