In my last few blogs we’ve talked about Murphy’s Law and its corollaries. Overcoming the challenge that these laws inevitably bring that makes us as engineers thrive. As an engineer solving challenges is in our blood. Thanks to Murphy’s Law there are always plenty to go around so we have great job security! There are benefits to facing these challenges since they help us to learn. As I have heard many times: “There is no teacher like experience.” I can add to that and say: “There is no teacher like a challenging experience.” We experience many things during our lifetime but the events that typically stand out the most are the ones that are the not only difficult but often trying. Experiences like these cause us to grow the most. We push ourselves beyond what we perceive as our limits and find out we are capable than more than we ever thought we could be.
As I look back over the experiences in my life I can see many difficult experiences. I grew up in a small town in rural county where not many folks pushed beyond the borders of the county to venture out into life. There were not many who left to attend college whether it was a community college or a university. I first decided to take the path to a technical community college because I did not feel up to the challenge of a university. However, after a few semesters at this technical community college a presentation was delivered from some university representatives. After hearing the presentation I decided to take on the challenge of attending a university to complete my bachelor’s degree in engineering. It was a hard decision for a small town boy to move to a large city and tackle engineering school. It was not easy and required a lot of effort, but the challenge taught me so many things. I ultimately ended up continuing my education in graduate school in an entirely different state and earned my master’s degree. If I had been asked in high school about a master’s degree I would have scoffed at the idea not believing it possible.
There were successes and there were setbacks along the way. There were plenty of challenging experiences. It was something I would not have thought possible at one point in my life but I completed it. It was during the time in graduate school that I got much better at writing and really started to develop the skill. A lengthy thesis of 126 pages will definitely give you a new appreciation of writing! I had a wonderful advisor that imparted a lot of great knowledge including doing a good job of expressing my work in writing. I am not sure I could count how many times he marked up each chapter of my thesis as he helped me to improve not only my thesis but also improve my writing skills simultaneously. What good is an idea if you cannot adequately express it to someone else? So here I am now writing blogs like this thanks in no small part to that thesis work in graduate school. It is my goal to try and impart some of the knowledge I have gained to you as the reader. Speaking of challenging experiences and imparting knowledge, let’s now take a look at some challenging experiences in the history of aerospace.
Back on May 25, 1961 a challenge was put forth by President Kennedy to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. I think if you had asked most folks at the time this would have seemed like an impossible task. However, we know now by looking back on history that on July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped down from the lunar module and planted his feet on the surface of the moon. There were many lessons learned along the way through many challenging experiences during that decade but ultimately the goal was achieved.
Kennedy Sets Goal to Put Man on the Moon – May 25, 19611
Neil Armstrong During Moonwalk – July 20, 19692
Since that time there have been many missions to space, countless satellites have been launched, and many planetary rovers and probes have been sent into space. Along the way there have been many challenges and setbacks but each has been used as a learning experience to improve each successive design. A few that come to mind include the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 and the space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. Lest we forget as well the Apollo 1 fire in 1967 preceding the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. In addition, the Apollo 13 mission in 1970 had to overcome a tremendous challenge when an oxygen tank burst on the way to the moon and the astronauts had to engineer a way to get back to Earth safely. Each time these setbacks occurred the engineers at NASA evaluated the event to learn from what had happened. The resulted in many improvements and changes to make the equipment more reliable and safer for the astronauts on board.
All these efforts have culminated into where we stand today. The work that has been done and continues to be done in aerospace has resulted in an incredible amount of designs placed into space for various scientific and economic reasons. To give a snapshot of where aerospace technology stands today, take a look at the chart below. This shows the amount of satellites currently orbiting the Earth…the number stands somewhere north of 1,300 at the moment! To view an interactive version of this chart, click here. It is quite interesting to take a look at all the satellites that are currently up there in orbit!
Current Satellites in Earth Orbit3
The lessons that have been learned continue to be applied to aerospace products today as evidenced by the number of satellites in Earth orbit currently. There are many challenges to designing products for space because of the harsh environment. Extreme temperature variations, cosmic radiation, and immense magnetic fields put heavy strains on components. It takes a significant amount of time and money to qualify a design for space due to the harsh environment. The design must last for a long time since there it isn’t practical to replace any parts while the design is out in space. Due to the amount of time and money invested to qualify designs many companies prefer to use a component or design that has been previously qualified if at all possible.
Component vendors such as ADI expend a lot of time and effort to qualify products for space. For packaged products space flows described in the MIL-PRF-38535 standard are followed and for die procurements space flows described in the MIL-PRF-38534 standard are followed. These standards follow on the heels of all the past experiences I’ve mentioned here so that designs can withstand the harsh environments of space. I encourage you go to the space products selection guide to begin to find out more about the offerings.
Analog Devices Space Products Selection Guide at: ADI Space Selection Guide
In the selection guide products ranging from data converters to operational amplifiers to mixers to amplifiers can be found all of which have been qualified for space. ADI has a 40 year history of supplying products for aerospace applications. Many lessons have been learned from different experiences that have helped to improve upon the space product offerings to enable satellite and planetary missions. It is an exciting industry full of possibilities. All one has to do is simply look at the latest news to see exciting discoveries such as the recent find of the seven Earth-like exoplanets. One has to wonder exactly what will the next generation of aerospace components and designs enable and just what may be the next great discovery.
I am sure as that many of you have had many challenging experiences during your career as an engineer. I encourage you to take some time to share in the comments section some of your experiences and how they helped you to grow as an engineer. Was it a challenging experience in college? Did you have a difficult project at the office? How did your experiences help you to grow?
1 Photo courtesy of NASA
2 Photo courtesy of NASA
3 Image courtesy of at Astronomy.com