Old Engineers Never Die

…they just unbalance to infinity.

That’s a geek joke.

The latest issue of Air & Space (which still has yet to run the article they paid me for!) follows up on the post-shuttle careers of a few NASA engineers. Ordinarily of interest to me, but not compelling, until I came to this guy’s story:

Perry Lewis, a former Johnson robotics flight controller, thought about where he might apply the skills he’d been using at NASA. “I used to talk with the astronauts, leading them through their on-orbit activities, so I concentrated on where I could use that ability to communicate effectively while still using my engineering skills,” he says.

Lewis came up with three industries that had a level of “operational complexity” similar to that of the space shuttle program: the military, the cruise-line business, and the airlines.

Today, you can find Lewis on the 27th floor of Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago, where he is an airline dispatcher. “I work in the Network Operations Center for United Airlines,” he says. “We run 6,000 flights every day, 40 to 60 of which come across my desk. I juggle weather, fuel, desired routes for all these flights, and use that information to release each flight.

“You have the pilot, the air traffic controller, and then you have me. Most people don’t realize my job even exists…”

Amen brother. You guessed it, this guy’s job is exactly what I did for about 10 years before moving into performance engineering (a closely related discipline). Ten years of having to interpret complex information and make snap decisions in a very time-sensitive environment forced me to become a hard core left-brainer…and that, kiddies, is how an English major ends up in an Engineering job.

I always wondered how much similarity there was between a flight operations center and mission control. It was pretty much my whole basis for creating those environments in Perigee, and if they’re not exactly the same at least they have the same…flavor, I guess.


If you were to draw a Venn diagram between the two worlds, I’d imagine we overlap in the “solving complex problems under serious time pressure with large metal vehicles moving through the air at high speed” part. This probably won’t win me any friends in the media world (like I have a lot to begin with), but I don’t want to hear any newspaper or TV people wail and moan about deadlines. You have no idea, dudes.

…and after.

So there you have it, my tenuous connection to the human spaceflight program. Oh yeah, and this guy I served in the Marines with who went on to become an astronaut. He’s now found gainful employment doing something similar for a private venture, but I’m not gonna name drop.

Ahem…yeah, it’s one of these guys.

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