Not sure this is the correct place but it is titled short stories....
Craig was a senior engineer at the company I got a job with some 30 years ago now. I had worked construction and plant maintenance as an electrician for quite a few years. I was in the midst of settling down with a family to raise and needed to get a job with some insurance benefits. I had put applications in at many of the local defense and space industry contractors in the area but had gotten very little response. When this company called and set up an interview I was pretty excited. At that particular time I was running commercial sites on the electrical side and I had a wide array of power and control system experience.
The interview as set up at Marshall Space Flight Center which is housed on Redstone Arsenal; a military installation. I had worked on Redstone for several contractors doing different jobs so I was at least moderately familiar with the area. I knew NASA had some large test stands on site where the original Apollo rockets had been tested. I also knew that the Columbia disaster had decimated the work force on the contractor side at Marshall but that was about all I knew at the time about NASA activities at Marshall.
My interview was at 2 PM on a Tuesday afternoon. I couldn't take off of my current job for a whole day so I made arrangements to leave from there to go to my interview. We were in the process of roughing in a grounding grid for a plant expansion so it was muddy, wet, and cold all that day. I felt a little embarassed to go to an interview with mud all over my clothes but then again; it was a job that required my skill set so I figured they could accept that I was used to getting dirty.
From the look on the secretary's face when I walked in I probably misjudged that particular assessment. She sat me in her office foyer and told me that Mr. Strickland would see me. Mr. Strickland was the chief engineer for the site, which I later found out meant that he signed off on all the work orders and basically made job assignments for the engineering staff. The contract itself was an agreement to operate and maintain pressurant and propellant facilities for NASA. He explained it to me as a bit like being a utility company; they ran the facilities and provided the pressurants and propellants that NASA needed to operate their test facilities at Marshall.
They had a new contract to refurbish and bring back into operation a whole section of the test area that had been mothballed for years. My job was to be to physically refurbish all the electrical control and instrumentation involved with running these facilities. He asked a lot of questions about my experience; specifically experience working directly with engineers. I wanted this job. It seemed challenging and interesting at the same time. I had worked directly with architects and engineers for most of my career so it wasn't like I had to make things up; but I was trying pretty desperately to paint as rosy a picture as I could. He seemed to sense there was an underlying issue as he kept repeating questions and asking for direct instances of how I dealt with engineers when I had problems with them.
He finally got around to asking how I would deal with an engineer that was both stubborn and wrong. I thought this was an odd question and tried to parry it with some vague generalities about using diplomacy and tact when dealing with people in general. He pushed back and bluntly asked if I would follow directions that I knew to be wrong if the engineer insisted. I told him I would not and that I deemed technical disagreements to be different from chain of command hierarchies. He wanted more explanation of this theory and pushed harder; suggesting that engineers had a lot of education and might know some things that I didn't. I agreed with this assessment but was getting a little irritated with his badgering comments. I told him that I had a lot of experience where systems HAD to function and that I would not follow anyone's lead in such situations when I knew their solution would not work.
"So".... he said, "You think engineers are sometimes full of crap?"
"I think anyone can be full of crap, it isn't limited to engineers" I said, probably with a little more heat than was really necessary. I had already gone from badly wanting the job to the point where I wasn't going to be badgered anymore by him or anyone else.
He pulled his glasses down and looked at me over them for a minute. "I hope you can keep that in mind after we hire you," he said.
Shortly after, he took me down the hall and introduced me to his most senior engineer, Craig. Craig could have been the model for every engineering stereotype caricature I've ever seen. He was very thin, with large thick glasses and still had an honest to god pocket protector in his white short sleeved shirt. He talked without looking you directly in the face and laughed at odd intervals over things that you seldom had a clue about. He was also one of the smartest people I have ever met. He lived engineering; it was his reason for existence. I found all of this out later, but that day he just seemed a little quirky and strange.
He showed me a few drawings and asked some really simple questions about electrical theory and control. After that, he told me we should go to the test area and he would show me around some of the facilities that they were refurbishing. It was quite a show. We went up on top of the test stand where the Saturn 5 engines were tested. It was a massive structure, some 270 feet high with large lifting cranes permanently mounted at several locations.
We went through the pumphouse that housed 13 locomotive diesels used for pumping coolant water to the test stand. He showed me the liquid hydrogen storage area, two huge vacuum jacketed spheres that held over 150,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen apiece. He explained that Hydrogen starts to boil at -420 Degrees F so even though it is stored and transferred in vacuum jacketed tanks and lines, it is always boiling off. As he talked he explained that at this temperature metal contracts significantly, requiring pipelines to be on rollers with stress relief loops included to keep them from pulling apart as the changing temperatures make them contract and expand.
It was fascinating stuff. He talked continously for probably 30 minutes, explaining in great detail how each facility worked and how it fit into the grand scheme of testing rocket engines. As we walked across a large field below the test stand toward one of the flare stacks that was constantly burning the venting hydrogen gas he explained the control system that operated the flare stack. As we walked down the vent line which was a 15" line, he suddenly stopped and pointed to a broken fitting on the conduit carrying the control wires to the flare stack. It was a 2" ridgid conduit and the broken fitting was a cast pulling C. Pulling C's are installed as required by code every 200' for the simple reason that fish tapes used to pull wires are only 250' long. It also minimizes the amount of force needed to pull the wire through the conduit which lessens the likelihood of inadvertently cutting or tearing the insulation on the wires inside.
As he stopped and pointed to the broken pulling C, he asked me why I thought it might have broken. I looked around a little and told him that I though somebody was probably climbing over the pipe rack and stepped on it. Pulling C's have a lot of tensile strength in a direct line, but have very little shear strength; it wasn't the first time I had seen one similarly destroyed.
"Well...." he started in, "think about what I told you about contraction of the vent line and the fact that there are no rollers or stress reliefs on the conduit" Craig said.
I knew where he was trying to lead me. I told him that it was possible that such contractions had broken the C but I didn't think it very likely. I explained that these fittings are very strong in that radial direction but not in shear. He seemed unconvinced and maybe a little confused why I didn't seem to agree with him.
"Why do you think someone stepped on it," he asked.
I pointed out that there was a worn path in the grass leading to and from the pipe rack at that location as it was directly between and the shortest route back and forth from the viewing bunker to the test stand. I also pointed out that there was dried mud on the pipe support hanger on the other side of the pipe rack that looked like it had been there for a while and a footprint on top of the vent line above the conduit.
Craig looked at all of this for a second or two and then said, "I think you're probably right." He then went right into asking me how I would repair the pulling C without seeming to take any more notice of our disagreement. Over many years, I never saw Craig take a personal slight from a technical conversation, not even in the slightest degree. People sometimes tried to give him insults but he never seemed to care about that at all. It was all purely technical to Craig, nothing else really mattered.
As you may can guess... I got the job. I worked there for many years quite happily.
4 posts • Page 1 of 1
Space, Space Programs, Manned and Unmanned Missions
- Joined: 17 Nov 2008, 18:31
If it is related in any way to NASA, it should probably be in The Cape forum.Not sure this is the correct place but it is titled short stories....
"It'd be nice to please everyone but I thought it would be more interesting to have a point of view."
-- Oscar Levant
-- Oscar Levant