Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly


Pictured are the windchimes that Frank and Kathy gave us. The have a nice melodious sound, but also serve us as a warning system too. When severe weather occurs, these chimes sing out to us telling us to take cover, but first to take them down before the storm hits and then head to the basement. I have had to take them down twice this spring and today looks like it could be the third time. Storms are predicted for this evening, and I would not want to see these lovely chimes literally blown away, sort of speak.

The conjunction of windchimes and stormy weather always reminds me of the character Mae, aunt to Helen Hunt’s character Jo, in the movie Twister. Mae is a sculptor who makes wind spinners that end up playing a pivotal role in the movie. Helen Hunt’s character Jo is a storm chaser, chasing tornadoes. She has a device named Dorothy, as in The Wizard of Oz. This Dorothy contains hundreds of instruments to measure wind conditions inside a tornado, but after several failed attempts it becomes apparent that Dorothy has a problem. Dorothy cannot fly. Inspired by Mae’s sculptures, Jo’s crew of storm chasers fashion little propellers for each of Dorothy’s instruments. These do the trick and Dorothy does eventually fly, but only on their fourth and final try.

Twister is fiction, but I experienced similar trepidations in real life, while working at Boeing. Designing and executing a scientific experiment is fraught with failure. As a rule of thumb, we generally held that an experiment must be performed three times, before it is done correctly. I was usually on the mathematical prediction side of these endeavors, but I did do some experimentation from time to time. Another rule of thumb that we held was that no one ever believed the predictions, except for the person who made them, while everyone believed the measurements, except for the person who took them. Having lived both sides of this coin, I find the saying to be so true. Today, Elon Musk’s SpaceX tried launching their new moon rocket. Unfortunately, its flight ended with “a rapid unscheduled disassembly,” also-known-as an explosion. Maybe after a couple of more attempts, he will get it right. He is rich enough; he can afford it.

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