Friday, October 15, 2010

Rocket Science

Discovery Channel once told me that the space vehicles of today are the greatest and most complex of human achievements. The biggest geeks, the best minds and the force of a thousand wills mesh together and the inferno that results is what gives birth to the modern space rocket. I am not a rocket scientist and I really don’t intend to spend my days computing the Orbital Velocity of the next payload. But sometimes, boys and immature young adult males like me are faced with a task more daunting and insurmountable than throwing a man into space. That, my friends and disciples, is the apparently simple task of wooing a girl. Many of us have been so lost in deep space when going through this phase that we have prayed fervently for a guide or a spiritual guru who will hold our hands guide us through the turbulent times. If nothing else, at least a manual or textbook that quenches our thirst for knowledge . Unfortunately the world has ignored this great need and a large amount of the collective knowledge in this field has been lost to the ravages of time. Whatever remains is held as a closely guarded secret by a few secret brotherhoods. There the knowledge is shared and whispered in shadowy gatherings into which entry is forbidden unless the dress code is strictly followed (black hood with matching cape). And so ordinary guys like me do not have the good fortune of walking into the local bookstore and going over to the ‘Lifestyle’ section to pick up ‘Wooing Girls – An Everyday Manual for an Everyday Guy’ or ‘Help Me!! I’m in Love! – 101 Tips to Get That Girl’.

Unfortunately, life is never in bulleted points or flow charts and pivot tables. It’s more akin to a collage comprising of a big stack of doctor’s prescriptions mashed together and then subjected to several trips though a shredder. Deciphering love from that mess is not child’s play. It requires patience and an eye for detail with copious amounts of dedication, expertise and creativity. Innovation can get brownie points too. In short you need to live the life of a rocket scientist, because the task that is to be accomplished is much more complex and intricate than rocket science.

The first stage is quite easy for most people. This is where you lay your foundation. There may be a bit of starting trouble; nothing an enterprising rocket scientist will find difficult though. You need to ensure you build a stable platform from which you can dream of launching the perfect rocket. Launch into the depths of space and explore the intricate secrets of the vast unknown and unexplored expanse of the universe(s?). This stage involves a lot of taking. So you talk and talk... and talk some more; text a little and chat quite a bit and of course, talk a wee bit more and blah and blah. During these conversations you get an idea of the necessary requirements to build the rocket. So try and listen to what is being said.

The first thing you figure out is the design for the rocket’s body. The basic design for every rocket is the same. All rockets have these essential requirements – a cone on top, a cylindrical, or semi cylindrical body and a nozzle at the bottom. The extra features, though essential, depend on each rocket. The secondary rockets that help in guidance, fins that keep you on course, the aerodynamic design and all of the other things that have to be there to keep a rocket in space and not go crashing into the sun and cause a supernova, which in all probability will wipe out all life in the near vicinity (let’s say a few hundred light years in all directions).

The rocket can be made of several materials. The substance that has to be used to make the rocket is also essential – different for different rockets. If you ask me, they have to be custom made for each. The information on the raw materials to be used can be got through those conversations I mentioned earlier. The ratio, in which the compositions are to be mixed, is totally up to you. Keep in mind that the material has to be tough enough to survive the intense stress and strain involved with takeoff and space travel. It has to bear the rigours of outer space – intense heat and cold, ultraviolet and radioactive radiations, meteorite collisions and god knows what else; alien attacks perhaps or even violent moral police fleets.

What is left to procure for building the rocket is the stuff that brings everything together - a huge amount of nuts and bolts and screws. They may come in different shapes and sizes and may seem inconsequential because of their size, but remember, ‘for want of a nail, the war was lost’. The entire superstructure may come crashing down because the nuts and bolts were not screwed in correctly. If you have a long space journey in mind, keep in mind that unless everything is gelling right and is in harmony (yeah, I believe in all of that crap), your rocket will come apart mid flight. There has to be some glue that holds everything together.

Then you figure out which propellants are to be used. Fuel is very important for a rocket launch. Not only does it get you off the ground, it also keeps you in the air (or space if you reach that far). The type of fuel depends on the rocket you are building. Some have solid state propellants, some liquid. Some have a slush of oxygen and hydrogen. It always depends on the make and size of the rocket and the distance you wish to travel. But be very careful. If you use the wrong kind of fuel, you could blow up mid air.

Now that you have everything you need, you start with the process of building your rocket. Please do not outsource it. Then whoever it is that you commission to build it will use your launch pad to launch your rocket and embark on an all expenses paid trip to Andromeda. Work diligently. Put your heart and soul into it. Your rocket and you should be like a samurai and his katana. The swordsman takes part in the forging process, so that when the sword is ready, his soul is intertwined with that of his sword. They go into battle as one entity. Such should be the building process for your rocket.

But it is when your rocket is fully built that you face the hardest part of the mission. The Launch. The day everyone is waiting for. Here, even the bravest and most valiant flounder. But if you are enterprising, determined and a true son of the soil, you will succeed. If all goes well, your rocket will launch without a hitch. There may be some problems with charting out a course in the beginning, but all of that can be sorted out. So, Bon Voyage!! Enjoy the journey! Don’t forget to send me postcards!!!

Not all of us are that lucky though. The production costs may go up suddenly, straining your finances, or you may not find the right components and the rocket will sit there half finished. Or, like it often happens to me, the launch may fail. Many get panicky and take-off too early, before the rocket is totally space worthy. Sometimes, it’s just a simple case of being dumb enough to use a cheap and faulty switch. All that work may go to waste if that all important red button doesn’t work. The fuel may refuse to ignite at that crucial moment or aliens may decide to attack Earth on that day. Then again there are instances where your rocket may end up being commandeered by pirates, or you suddenly find out on the day of the launch that the exact same model has already been launched in Ugandaland and the pilot is currently on a joyride around the Milky Way.
The worst is when you choke at the last moment. (What if this is not the right time? WAIT!!) And you wait for clear skies or the sun to come out or for that divine sign that gives you the all clear to launch. (Is that it? Yes it IS!! No its just Superman). I’m a bloody choker sometimes when it comes to the take-off. At times like that, I really begin to understand what Graeme Smith must feel after every major tournament. All that time and effort, simply gone to waste.

And there they stand, the ghosts of launches past. Some of them lie unfinished and deformed. Others stand proud, pointing skywards, knowing that all they are now is shell of memories filled with smoke, hot air and broken hopes and dreams. They stand in the rain of a million memories as rust and time take their toll. A thousand faces wipe away what’s left until all that remains is the painted picture of a painted face.

Well, kindergarten really got to me and so did that old Scottish king and the spider. Even the Agni failed to launch several times, right? So don’t be surprised if you see a picture of me on Facebook which shows me shaking hands with Orion.

Wait a minute. Damn I forgot to include an engine!!