Countdown Sequence Start

by grouperlab

This is a parallel post linking to the Indiana Space Grant Consortium post at


I started seriously thinking about the countdown when we hit 600.  (I even started a blog entry about it, but I didn’t manage to finish it until we were crossing 500.)  At 400, it became obvious that regular meetings would be needed and important.  At 350, I created a timer.  Now, as we approach 300, I can start to hear the ticking in my head.

July 20, 2019.

The 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, and especially the moon landing, is a primary emphasis of my administrative and engagement work for this year.  It touches many of my connections on the Purdue campus, as well as multiple existing partnerships and new conversations around the State of Indiana.  In one sense, I am reminded of my preparations for race day when I was involved in competitive rowing as a coxswain, dozens of years (and pounds) ago.  Race preparation obviously doesn’t start when you get in the boat a half hour before you hit the starting line.  Often, the planning process works backwards: if we want to be ready to row that race on that day, what do we have to do today?  What skills and drills do we emphasize?  What specific contingencies do we practice?  What can I learn about my boat (not just the physical craft, but the four or eight people who rely on me to steer straight, make the right decision, and earn their trust) right now, that will make the difference days or weeks hence?


I still find myself adopting that preparation model for events: lectures for class, public interview and presentation opportunities, project management for the lab or a research team or Space Grant activities.  The process gets more intricate and the need to connect gets stronger as the scale gets larger.  How do I channel that passion well?  What is the elegant set of plans and preparations that allows me to use today to get us closer to excellent execution on that day that seems both far off and approaching way too fast.  The more we discuss among our Mission Operations “consoles,” the more I recall how deeply I feel the importance and impact of December 1968 – July 1969, the first time we left Earth.  I am also more acutely aware that not everyone feels this, and the purpose of this celebration is not just to get everyone to connect to Apollo 8 or Apollo 11 the way I do (“my favorite thing”).  We must explore and connect how many different ways people to connect to the variety of inspirations and experiences of exploration – aviation, space, scientific discovery, engineering innovation, inspiration and engagement and education of various types for each unique individual and her or his special pattern of resonance.


This charge, more than any other, underscores the need I feel for a palette of events, rather than simply focusing on a single signature activity.  Neil flew a variety of aircraft from his childhood through his return from the Moon; as a student, he played in the band and built and flew model airplanes.  By the time Purdue was celebrating its centennial in 1969, Indiana had already played an outsized and varied role in aerospace history (which many people still do not fully appreciate).  Balloons were employed to deliver airmail before the Civil War.  The Wright family lived here, in Hagerstown; Wilbur was born there.  Aircraft engines for World War I and II were built here, and critical training for aviators (including the famed Tuskegee Airmen) was led by those born, or living, or trained in Indiana.  Amelia Earhart worked here, inspiring women to fly and get their technical training.  All of that was in place before a youth from Wapakoneta, OH decided to enroll at Purdue, overlapping with a slightly older student from Mitchell, IN, who both had dreams to fly.  Every one of these stories is about dedication and planning and preparation.


Why do I take this so seriously, and worry about the countdown so much?  Unexpectedly, on the way back from the National Space Grant Directors meeting (this year, during a beautiful late summer oasis in Vermont), I got an answer – serendipitously, while writing this entry.  New colleagues from another Space Grant consortium saw my pins and stickers, and asked about their effectiveness in stimulating interest and engagement and enthusiasm for Space Grant programs.  Conversation drifted to strategies for engagement with FIRST Robotics… after a few minutes, another passenger comes over.  She’s a scientist, and passionate about FIRST and STEM education, and we end up having a good conversation about our Space Grant mission.  Since I still consider myself something of an introvert, this type of conversation is what preparation helps me do well.


But, over the next 306 days, there will be more people, and more opportunities, and more connections, all to get from imagining to planning to excellent execution.  Each day has new opportunities for meeting challenges and enabling achievements, as well as the need to maintain wariness against