I helped land the Space Shuttle in the summer of 1982.
This article is part of our monthly From the Editor column. Read more from Thomas Wilk.
Was it the real U.S. Space Shuttle? No. It was a highly realistic simulation, run as part of the first Space Camp class, offered by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. It also took place nearly 40 years ago, when one of the monkeys sent up into space by the U.S. in 1959 was still alive in a place of honor at the space and rocket center. My memory no doubt cheats a bit.
However, every now and then, the U.S. space program accomplishes something spectacular, and it takes me back every time to those feelings of being a successful mission specialist at Space Camp, and landing the shuttle successfully.
One of those days came in February, when I was glued to the TV as the NASA rover Perseverance made its final approach to Mars and then landed safely over an agonizing and thrilling 10-minute sequence. And it didn’t just land – first the vehicle carrying Perseverance entered the Martian atmosphere and deployed a 70-foot-diameter parachute while still going nearly twice the speed of sound. Then, parachutes popped open and a sky crane lowered the rover the final distance to the surface. Lastly, because the rocky terrain of Mars makes it a notoriously difficult place to land, the rover used an autonomous guidance system to land safely in a rugged area full of natural hazards.
It’s not just the U.S. that is achieving big things on Mars. In February, there was a virtual traffic jam around the planet, as the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter entered Mars’ atmosphere on February 9, and China’s Tianwen-1 rover began orbiting Mars on February 10 and is set to land on the surface sometime in May.
All three Mars missions reminded me that huge challenges can be overcome, which is good because we’ve got a huge challenge facing us here on Earth: reducing greenhouse gas emissions while transitioning to clean energy sources. And several market indicators are pointing toward a renewed will to tackle this problem. GM has declared its aspiration to phase out gasoline vehicles and sell only electric versions of passenger cars and light trucks by 2035. Ford is adding about $11 billion in new spending on electric vehicles, and Volkswagen is earmarking $37 billion in an effort to eventually outsell Tesla. The financial sector is also getting into the game, with six of the largest U.S. banks declaring their intent to set net-zero-by-2050 goals.
This issue includes several articles about ways that MRO can join the effort, with Peter Garforth focusing on how plants can reduce their dependency on natural gas, and Adrian Messer writing about five ways that ultrasound can drive improved energy efficiency.
If you are helping to drive energy efficiency programs at your plant, drop me a line, we’d love to hear about it. And in the meantime, keep persevering to solve problems that may look impossible. Together, we can land the Shuttle.