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World Book Encyclopedia

In Praise of Gemini

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6, image courtesy NASA
Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6, image courtesy NASA

When I was a kid I went through several discernible "phases" where I was interested in / obsessed with a specific topic. These topics included South America, flags, aircraft and spaceflight. The interest in space arguably extends to this day.

One of the ways these phases were manifest was by me reading everything I could about space in our family's copy of the World Book Encyclopedia. Encyclopedias, if you will recall, were bound reference volumes where you went for information about things in the world. Instead of it being constantly updated online, this information was permanently printed on paper. It was very quaint.

At any rate, the 10-year-old version of me took a particular interest in the US Space Program from the first steps of the Project Mercury to the triumphal moon landings that occurred as part of the Apollo Program (the edition of the World Book we had was printed before the Space Shuttle had become a real thing).

In the years since then, I've maintained a interest in the subject although I approach it from a slightly different perspective. Now I'm fascinated in it from a design standpoint.

Although the engineering of the spacecraft themselves is compelling, so too is the engineering of the process that allowed us to go from barely launching a single guy into space to successfully landing two guys on the moon. The fact that this occurred in less than 9 years in an era before the kind of computing we take for granted today makes the accomplishment all the more amazing.

That accomplishment did not happen in one giant leap, but rather it was accomplished through the achievements of several small steps. We remember the "firsts" of the Mercury missions and the triumphal moon landings of the Apollo missions, but the Gemini Missions were a critical step in the process.

Project Gemini consisted of ten manned missions that occurred in 1965 and 1966. Each flight carried two astronauts into low earth orbit where they practiced the techniques and technologies that would be required to land on the moon. On Gemini 5, for example, they tested the fuel-cells that would be needed to power a week-long trip to the moon and back. Gemini 6 and 7 practiced orbital rendezvous. Gemini 12 helped perfect the spacewalk techniques that are still used to this day.

Each flight built on the accomplishments of the one before it so that by 1969, the space program was ready to land on the moon. This incremental approach was in contrast to those of the Soviet Space Program that was able to accomplish several early milestones before the US, but those achievements were not part of a larger strategic plan. Although the Soviets had a moon program, it floundered whereas the US program succeeded.

The takeaway from all this is that the big, seemingly impossible tasks are achieved through small incremental steps. And although those small steps may be easy enough to achieve on their own, they must be planned so that they are all moving towards the larger goal.

I'm thinking about all this as I think about the office and all that we've accomplished this past year. I go back and forth on weather or not 2015 was a good one for HiWorks. On the one hand, a lot of really good things happened - we landed several exciting new projects and met a lot of interesting people as a result of the publication of the courthouse book. On the other hand we were considerably less profitable and we have less in savings now than we did at the beginning of the year. HiWorks has only existed for 3 years and so we are still in the early stages of our development. I'd like to think the little steps we are taking now are in the service of achieving a larger goal but we need to make certain we know what that goal is. Perhaps that's something we can do in 2016.

We'll let you know when we figure it out. Until then, Happy New Year.