Yesterday we got an email from Brian Mathews, VP of Autodesk Labs. With his permission, I thought I would share it with you.
From: Brian Mathews
Sent: Tuesday, July 21, 2009, 9:35 AM
To: Autodesk Labs Dev
Subject: Man on the Moon: being an engineer
With all the media buzz about the 40 year anniversary of putting a man on the moon yesterday, a lot of attention was placed on the brave astronauts that risked (or lost) their lives.
One thing that didn't get much coverage was the engineers it took to put those astronauts on the moon. While the astronauts were brave, from one perspective, you could argue that their job was made possible by the process and procedures created by engineers behind the scenes. When Apollo 13 got into trouble, it wasn’t the astronauts that saved the situation: they didn’t have the knowledge. Engineers made the difference.
The average person has a hard time understanding how incredible the task was from an engineering perspective and the talent required. Consider the available electronics and programming languages of the time. There was no Mathematica to do engineering calculations, no Google to find spec sheets or wiring diagrams, and no AutoCAD to aid in manufacture. The CPUs of the day used a lot of power for very little performance. Running a finite element analysis of the reaction chamber dynamics was impossible. Beyond the significant intellectual aspects of the science were the very practical skills of managing a large and complex team, building an amazingly complex craft, and then testing the system somehow on the ground.
I congratulate the many engineers who put a man on the moon 40 years ago. I congratulate you all for your accomplishments today as engineers and your dedication to apply the intellectual discoveries of science to practical reality for the betterment of mankind. We can make a difference.
Brian P. Mathews
Vice President, Autodesk Labs
I have an autographed copy of Buzz Aldrin's book The Last Man on the Moon. I read it years ago. I recall that the lunar lander touched down on the surface of the moon with only seconds of fuel left. Imagine the horror if the fuel had been spent minutes earlier. Now do the calculations to make sure that doesn't happen using a slide rule. We owe the engineers of that era a great deal.
Celebrating mankind's achievements as truly a team effort is alive in the lab.