Sunday, January 19, 2014

More Identity Crisis

On Friday, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Air and Space Museum with some of the people from the labs I worked with in Japan.  It was a dream come true.  I can't imagine the last time I was able to spend so much time at the museum, with people who taught me so much.  Asai Sensei not only knew every airplane and rocket and spacecraft, he knew the names of the designers and who built the engines.  He knew what technological advancements were made between the airplanes and when there were paradigm shifts in the industry.  It was fascinating and I followed him around, eagerly trying to remember and soak in as much as I could.

For the rockets, there are a few models of the crude rockets designed and used by Goddard, who essentially pioneered space travel by showing people the validity of using rockets to reach space.  Staring at the bottom of the crude rocket, Asai Sensei pointed out the design of the moveable "fins" that were used to control thrust.  "You see this?  Goddard was the first to come up with such a design.  He patented it too.  But of course the Americans didn't care.  They didn't even notice.  You know who did notice?  The Germans.  They snatched up those patents and learned the technology necessary for their own rockets."

Next, Asai Sensei directed me over to the V2.  When I had first glanced at it, I had shuddered - this rocket that was so powerful and built by people in concentration camps.  But my professor hardly noticed my trepidation and keenly pointed out the same "fin" design found on the Goddard rocket.  "You see, here?  The Germans learned that from Goddard."

I noted the similarity and Asai Sensei kept going.  "Now, you know Von Braun was in charge of designing the V2.  And when the war was over, he came over to the American side and helped with NASA and the success of the design of Saturn V."  I followed him over to the Saturn V rocket model display.  He smiled at me, "It's like one large historical circle."  I nodded, "Yes, it all came full circle."  

As I looked at the Saturn V model in its glass case, it was with new eyes.  This is the rocket that got us to the moon.  Although the Saturn V itself was used for a largely peaceful effort in getting to the moon, it held a bloody genealogy.  The phrase "swords beaten into plowshares" means something differently to me now.  Space exploration which is a peaceful venture to worlds beyond did not come without its costs.  It does not remain untouched from the defense technology that fuels most of aerospace advancement.  It is all intricately intertwined.  

On a similar note, it can be an interesting parallel to think about the hard things in our lives, even the destructive things in our lives.  We can turn them full circle.  Defining positive upward turns in our trajectories might very well come from our darkest and most discouraging lows.  I'm not sure that I have confidence that I could become what I am without the hard things.  I don't think life really gives us the luxury to know the "what ifs".  However, life does give me the chance to demand, "Pain is not the end. I refuse to let this be so.  I will make something of this experience.  I will turn this into something for my good, for others' good.  There will be joy in my life.  There must be joy in this life."  

Never, never give up.  

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