Discover more from An Engineering Self-Study
#12 - In Defense of Bad Ideas
This past Friday was my last day working in Mojave. When I’m leaving a place, I usually like to visit my favorite restaurants one last time. Mojave cuisine is not exactly noteworthy, so instead the place to go was the Air & Space Port’s Legacy Park. I would go to the park on most of my lunch breaks to take in the (little bit of) greenery. Though what draws the eyes immediately is this thing, the Rotary Rocket.
When I first started coming to the park, one of my coworkers showed me this video of a test flight of the Rotary Rocket. We laughed about how anybody could be dumb enough to think that it could work, like I’m sure most do.
I mean, look at it, it’s like a lighthouse crossed with a helicopter. But over the years, I started to think differently about it. The Rotary Rocket is right next to a replica of SpaceShipOne. The original spaceship now sits in the National Air and Space Museum, just about the highest honor something in aerospace can have. If you’re not familiar, SpaceShipOne had the first crewed private spaceflight and won the Ansari X Prize by flying to space twice within two weeks. On the other hand, the Rotary Rocket flew three test flights and reached a maximum altitude of 75 feet, running out of funding two weeks before a full-scale test.
But if you look at the spaceship’s design, it’s certainly not the most conventional either. It basically folds itself in half during its feathered re-entry. I have no doubt if the successes were reversed, people would be scoffing at the spaceship wondering how someone could have come up with such an obviously bad idea. As one of the founders of Rotary Rocket, Gary Hundson, wrote in a great article at the start of the endeavor:
The difference between "insane" and "insanely great" is often only a matter of shifting perceptions
It’s so easy to sound wise about ideas after you have the benefit of seeing the results. I’m not really saying anything new, but I think it’s good to remind ourselves to encourage all ideas, especially the “bad” ones. If nothing else, they add color to the world and inspire others to think in new ways. Even if the idea fails, they push us forward in ways we couldn’t imagine. In the case of the Rotary Rocket, it’s credited with making Mojave a center for private space ventures, like SpaceShipOne.
We only expand the realm of the possible when individuals dare to try things that seem impossible. In other words, almost everything important starts life as a bad idea. (At this point, I think I’m just trying to justify all the terrible ideas I’m going to have). I’ll leave you with the plaque that sits in front of the Rotary Rocket in Mojave.
Drawing exercise #3. If you missed it, here’s why I’m learning to draw.
And finally, a quick programming note: posts will probably be a bit sporadic over the next few weeks as I get moved. Please bear with me.