Skip to main content

His 100th Birthday

March 23rd was Wernher von Braun's 100th birthday. The US Space and Rocket Center has been gearing up for the celebration with their informative exhibit (open until May), and a few guest speakers. This post is my own reflection from one of the recent lectures.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last week the "F" and I had a unique opportunity to learn more about my beloved Dr. Wernher von Braun through a thick German accent spilling the priceless memories of working for and with the late rocket scientist. Dr. Jesco von Puttkamer, a proud member of NASA for 50+ years, painted a beautiful picture of von Braun's personality and leadership style. He described a man known for never saying a hurtful word and being humble enough to visit blue collar workers and inquire about their job duties. His management style was a careful balance of delegation where the delegates had authority to make tough decisions.

My favorite memory Dr. von Puttkamer shared was about the beginning of his own career. He talked about corresponding with von Braun via letter from Prussia to America asking advice for college courses in the hopes of one day working with von Braun.Von Braun would always reply with good advice. Von Puttkamer described writing a specific letter to von Braun following his graduation from college with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

"I wrote to von Braun saying that I wanted to immigrate to America since the Aerospace jobs in Germany were slim. I basically said that I would immigrate to America and plan to work in industry for a few years since I was a greenhorn. Then after gaining experience I hoped to meet up with him and his team to build rockets."

A few weeks later von Puttkamer received a telegram from von Braun.

The telegram was very short and said:

Don't go to industry.
Come to Huntsville.
We are going to the moon.
-von Braun

As Puttkamer was telling us this story (remember, with a thick German accent), I couldn't help but feel a rush of excitement, for him and for the nation.

Wernher was so incredibly talented, but yet so incredibly personable. There is no doubt his management style "got the job done", and how might NASA's outlook be different now if someone had as much charisma as Dr. von Braun? I am completely onboard with von Braun's leadership and managerial style. It is in line with my morals and my personality and my limited experience with leading groups. It is not a question of being a "pushover", it's more about working for a person you ENJOY working for, and someone you know respects your position, whatever it might be. I don't know the climate of NASA's leadership, I don't work for NASA. But I do know we are losing right now, we are losing a national vision for space flight.

Dr. von Puttkamer mentioned one more nugget of knowledge worth sharing. Of course he is biased to support spaceflight, "But really," he said, "America just needs something scientifically stimulating, something which challenges our current knowledge, but more importantly, inspires young people to work hard in math and science fields." He's right. And as much as I would love that inspiration to blossom from America's human spaceflight ventures, the truth is we are in a desperate situation right now. We need something other than health care debates and economy downers to light the flame for the next generation.

Dr. Jesco von Puttkamer shares his memories last week at the US Space and Rocket Center.
Who will step up to accept the challenge von Braun indirectly delivered? Someone has to...and soon!

Comments

  1. Nerdy April,

    You will be glad to know that someone I work with knows all about Wernher von Braun. She had to do a paper on him while she was in high school. She was very impressed that someone else knew who he was. How great is that!

    Aunt Vicki

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Who has two thumbs and loves comments? Nerdy April!!! Type one out and hit publish!

Popular posts from this blog

The road to curing Type 1 Diabetes

From the moment of diagnosis, the road is rough, the learning curve is steep and the stakes are literally life or death. The map is less-than-helpful - paths originating from virtually every corner, coalescing at a center point (aka "diagnosis") and bursting back outwards - some paths cross and wrap around each other but others are isolated. And even with all of these roads, most of the territory is uncharted - how did we all get here and how will we all exit? Where are the obstacles we haven't found yet? Which passage holds the key to unlocking the solution?

On any given day I feel pretty isolated with this disease - I'm the only T1D in my group at work, the only one in mission control, the only one in my family. I go through the logistics of calling insurance companies, ordering supplies, changing sites and troubleshooting malfunctions mostly on my own. Even those pesky carbs really only get counted in my brain, no group think for a meal bolus here. But there is b…

International Travel with Type 1 Diabetes

Whew! Back from one international trip and on to another next week! I will admit my eyes roll every time I get the "we're gunna need to pat you down" talk at TSA, but international travel is a whole different animal. I thought it might be fun to see what goes through my brain and into my bags for these types of trips!


I wouldn't be a NASA Flight Controller if I wasn't good at planning, the key to international travel as a T1D is PLANNING!

3 months prior

Assess supplies. Mine come in 90-days supplies so I like to inventory at least 3 months prior and make a plan to order more early if the trip is going to coincide with the end of my 90-day stock. In my experience supply companies are usually pretty good about adjusting orders as needed if you tell them the reason for the early request - just mention you have an international trip coming up and want to make sure to have plenty of supplies (and backups!) in time. Request a loaner insulin pump. It's likely the comp…

Hot OJT

Last week I had the chance to mentor a newly certified ADCO trainee - the NASA process is called "Hot On-The-Job-Training", or Hot OJT. What makes it "hot" you ask? Well, essentially I am hands off - he is sitting at the console, working all the plan reviews and updates, making calls to other flight controllers and to the flight director, reacting to anomalies and preparing material for the shift handover. My job is to act as the fault tolerance - a backup ADCO of sorts.

Tuesday was his last official day and by Wednesday morning he was in the backroom sending commands to ISS in preparation for the docking of a three-person Soyuz.


The beauty of this system is the gradual buildup in responsibility. There is a subtle shift from student, to subject matter expert, to fresh operations trainee to advanced trainee and finally to certification and real-time operations flight controller - the process takes two years on average and is considered by many to be enough specializ…
01 09 10