Thursday, February 24, 2011

Interview: Dave Minion at the Space Shuttle Launch

NASA is winding down their Shuttle program, and today is the (delayed) final launch of Discovery. Discovery is heading to the International Space Station (ISS). It is the US government's plan to have NASA shift orbital flights to private-sector space companies, with the possibility of NASA then having resources to mount a manned expedition to Mars.

Dave Minion has traveled to Kennedy Space Center for the NASATweetUp, and will be viewing the launch from the Press Center near the famous Countdown Clock. This is the closest that non-mission personnel can get to the pad for a launch. Dave has ties to the civilian-commercial space industry, most recently working on the nefarious yet successful project staged by Dr. Gru to launch a rocket to steal the Moon. I caught up Dave by phone as he watched the RSS retraction (when the large protective structure is moved away from the shuttle) at Kennedy on Wednesday night.

Laura: Hi Dave, and thanks for taking the time to talk to me. How does Discovery look?

Dave: She looks great, it's really majestic seeing her sitting on the pad with all her fuel tanks, and realizing that humans built her.

Laura: Yes, what an achievement for science and technology, and for human creativity and ingenuity!

Dave: Well, what I was really getting at was that this was not a Minion-assisted project. When I was working for Dr. Gru we built an entire manned rocket with what we could raise by emptying our piggy banks and pawning our watches. We successfully launched a manned rocket to the Moon, carrying a Chinese-designed shrink ray. Furthermore we were able to shrink the Moon and bring it back to Earth. This Shuttle is beautiful, it looks like a graceful bird strapped to a Harley-Davidson, but really besides looks, what does it have going for it? The Shuttle program is vastly expensive, and its goal seems to be to build a tree-house in Earth orbit. It's kind of a yawner, frankly, after the work I've done with Gru and Nefario. [Dave is referring to Dr. Nefario, the well-known "black market" rocket scientist who designed Gru's Moon-stealing vehicle].

Laura: Well, there are all the great experiments that have taken place on the shuttles and on the ISS, bringing about advancements in medicine, metallurgy, and on living in zero-g.

Dave: Of course of course. It's just not as glamorous or attention-getting as actually stealing the Moon.

Laura: Umm, how is the launch countdown going? Any signs of the kinds of issues that plagued the launch window back in late October/early November?

Dave: Everything looks great. NASA engineers spent a lot of time working on the external fuel tank problem. They have confidence that the tank is in working order. The final proof of that will be during the actual tanking of fuel tomorrow morning, but at this point so much thorough analysis has gone into the repairs that NASA is ready to go.

Laura: For many people, it's a bittersweet day that Discovery is being retired. However, there is a future with private-sector launches and commercial-NASA cooperations. What do you think about the growing private-sector space industry?

Dave: If the companies can make money sending people and payloads up, then it will be great for them. It will also help maintain the aerospace jobs that are being lost due to the downsizing of NASA's programs, and might even become a growth industry. However, I must say that it also will make space flight more mundane. It used to be that you had to be a major government, or a major villain, to get a rocket into orbit. There was a certain cachet of seeing the rocket go up with the NASA or Gru logo on it. You would be on the news everywhere. You knew you were one of a very few organizations who could do what you do. Now that space flight is opening up, it will someday be like the airline industry. Rockets won't grab the headlines they used to. And on a more personal note, Dr. Gru's mother will be even less impressed than ever.

Laura: How is she and the girls, by the way?

Dave: Oh they're all doing great, although I must say that Gru and Nefario have really slowed down their operations lately. We've been having a lot of fun, especially watching little Agnes grow up, but sometimes I miss the exciting times, like when we flew to China and broke into that secret research facility to steal the shrink-ray.

Laura: Well Dave, thanks very much for your time. Enjoy the launch!

Dave: Eeeeep!