First, honest congratulations to SpaceX for a successful first launch of their Falcon 9 rocket. I have no suitable analogy for how difficult it is to do such a thing on the first try. Just now that it’s extremely difficult. Incredibly difficult. Nearly impossible. But they did it.
Jon Hofeller, one of my classmates at the 2006 Summer Session Program at the International Space University, works at SpaceX. Out of the blue, he began sending launch update emails, letting us — whoever “us” was on the bcc of his emails — know how the launch preparations were going, how long the delays were, when new launch times were scheduled, etc. I’m glad he did it. I don’t have the stomach to watch the live feed of rocket launches anymore. Too many things can go wrong. Even these rockets that I’ve never worked on break my heart when they fail. I’ll read the launch report instead, thanks.
So, congratulations, Jon, et al, for crushing the first launch.
Thus endeth the congratulatory part of this post.
I read Jon’s emails from my cubicle at work. It was mid-afternoon, but I was the last person left in my seven-desk wing of the cubicle farm, which is unironically called a “Collaborative Office Area.” Everyone else was either on vacation or, as is often the case on a Friday, just gone because they know that no one will notice they are gone. (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?) Meanwhile I got to read these fantastic updates from someone enjoying their job. Fortunately I don’t have any soul left to be crushed by that.
Following Jon’s Falcon 9 updates reminded me of one of the best days of my life — maybe top ten, maybe not, but good enough to be memorable. It reminds me of watching the launch of AIM at Orbital on 27 April 2007. That’s one of the peaks of my professional career, and it wasn’t even my mission. Sitting with those experienced Pegasus rocketeers, feeling them hold their breath at certain stages of the pre-launch check, leaning forward in their seats during drop and ignition, applauding as the vehicle lofted out of view…
I read Jon’s emails and I thought of that. And the jealousy expanded inside me to a point I couldn’t bear. Every day I regret leaving Orbital when I did. The throwaway line, “Live and learn,” doesn’t apply here. What did I live? What did I learn? I learned that if I can get this time machine working, then I’ll go back and start over.
I spent half of my life studying math because it was supposed to be a key need for my profession, only to never use it at work. So I finagled that skill into personal budgeting. If all goes as planned — when does it ever? — I can repay my student loans, the sole remaining component of my debt, in their entirety by the end of August. After that there will be nothing but blue skies — and total, if temporary, illiquidity — in front of me.
That constitutes the total of my professional goals at the moment: break the yoke. Then I’ll see your Falcon 9, and raise you one.