Actually, It IS Rocket Science

I love rockets and space travel stuff. I grew up watching Mercury, Gemini and Apollo manned missions to space and built plastic models of various rockets and capsules. The technology still awes me.

At age twelve I watched liftoffs of manned missions and wrote down the comments of the flight announcer who updated how high and fast the rocket was flying. I’d calculate speed in miles per hour from the “feet per second” metric used by NASA.  (I used a slide-rule to calculate. If you don’t know what a slide-rule is, I have no reasonable way to explain it to you without sounding like a Neanderthal)

I was stunned how something so big as a Saturn V rocket could move so fast.

Recently, I repeated my “calculating obsession” while watching the launch of a U.S. satellite atop the largest rocket currently in use in this country, the Delta IV Heavy. (I used a handheld calculator this time)

The Delta IV Heavy weighs in at 1.6 million pounds at launch…about one-fourth the weight of the 1960-70’s era Saturn V rocket, which sent astronauts to the moon.

Did you catch it? The Saturn V was four times the weight of the largest current rocket.


The June 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral went like this: (based on launch control announcer information)

  • Less than one minute into the flight it surpassed the speed of sound (over 750 mph)
  • At 90 seconds it was over nine miles up and going over 1,700mph
  • At 127 seconds it was over fifteen miles up and speeding along at 2,625mph
  • At 160 seconds it was traveling over 3,300mph and get this, weighed half its original launch weight, just 2 minutes, 40 seconds earlier. It was burning over one and half tons of fuel every second.
  • Twenty seconds later it had accelerated to over 5,300mph and was almost 30 miles up in the air.
  • A minute later, the rocket was technically in space, weighing a small fraction of what it was just four minutes earlier. The acceleration to 17,600 miles per hour required to reach orbit was due greatly to the decreasing weight propelled by the enormous power of the rocket engines.

Using this as a metaphor for writing successfully was simply too easy to pass up.

What rockets teach us about life and writing:

  • Total commitment is required – once the engines start and the rocket is one inch off the launch pad, there is no reversal, no turning back. If you want to succeed at writing, you should not consider a “fall-back” position.
  • Complete reliance on internal power – There is no bow, slingshot or gun propelling the rocket. For Christian authors, this is “Christ in me.” The power is enormous. This is not a self-powered never-give-up attitude relying entirely on a person’s own strength. That kind of power runs out and depends on your mood.
  • Decreasing excess baggage (weight) will increase your speed – is about sacrifice. Successful authors always, always sacrifice something. There are twenty-four hours in a day and only seven days a week. Total commitment is spelled…TIME. You can’t do everything. You must jettison something in order to fully commit to writing. It will never, ever fit nicely into your life unless you make time for it.
  • Failure is necessary to succeed – just like dramatic failures in missile technology have led to great improvement in future programs, so failure with writing is a stepping-stone to success. This is not a motivational slogan. It is a necessary and important aspect of growth. You must fail in order to succeed.

Once in space, the view is spectacular. Every astronaut enjoys the moment because they know the magnitude of the effort it took to get them into orbit.

So authors should never forget what it took to get a book published. It was not simple, without sacrifice or a failure or two along the way.

Holding a printed book in your hand is greeted with a satisfied sigh and quietly appreciated. Then a hearty “woo-hoo” is heard a mile away!


15 Responses to Actually, It IS Rocket Science

  1. Avatar
    Candy NIchols August 16, 2016 at 5:16 am #

    Using this today for my homeschool Grandboys … Great info ALL the way around. Thanks

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    Michael Emmanuel August 16, 2016 at 5:21 am #

    Hmm… Wisdom in letters. To be highly pondered.

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    Richard Mabry August 16, 2016 at 5:34 am #

    Dan, nice observations, especially “Failure is necessary to succeed.” Thanks for passing on your thoughts.

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    Judith Robl August 16, 2016 at 6:20 am #

    What a perfect analogy! Dan, I remember the same events you remember.

    My first calculator was a slide rule. I still have one in my house – and friend-husband (a former math teacher) has a wall sized demonstrator about five foot long.

    Just as the lift-off of a rocket isn’t just about those aboard, there is an entire support staff left on earth for each book – critique partners, editors, mentors, teachers, beta readers, proof readers – the list goes on.

    Every novice writer needs gather a clan of support staff around him/her. The members of that staff are precious and priceless. They will help get this rocket launched.

  5. Avatar
    Judith Robl August 16, 2016 at 6:22 am #

    Edit, edit, edit !! ** needs to gather **

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    Sheri Dean Parmelee August 16, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    Dan, your post was awesome! I am a “space baby” from Florida and your comments really spoke to my heart. When my friends and I were writing our dissertations, I was the first person in my group to defend because I was committed to a minimum of 2 hours a day of actual writing (as opposed to straightening my desk, organizing my pencils, and adjusting the blinds next to my computer). Your thoughts were right on the money! Thanks for sharing!

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    Marilyn Read August 16, 2016 at 7:19 am #

    So, so good. Especially your comments about relying on Christ’s power within us as we seek words that will honor our amazing God.

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    Davalynn Spencer August 16, 2016 at 8:04 am #

    The “Christ in me” brought tears.

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    rochellino August 16, 2016 at 9:16 am #

    One’s depth can propel them to great heights. Purposely not having a “fall back” position is straight out of the ancient book “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. Terrific post Dan!

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    Carol Ashby August 16, 2016 at 9:20 am #

    Great analogies, Dan. You bring back memories.
    Slide rules are easy to explain. They are mechanical analog computers. They let you multiply to three and sometimes four significant figures by adding logarithms as you slide and align the rulings.
    Ah, for the days of Post slide rules. There was something very satisfying in the feel and sound of the bamboo slide gliding in the track. Remember the slide-rule races? One of the guys had a circular model that gave him a speed advantage because he didn’t have to flip directions.
    I carried a 6” one in my purse so I could calculate how much the yardage I wanted at the fabric store would cost before I decided to buy it during my penny-pinching days. Now we have calculators in our cell phones, and I don’t have to worry about the cost of an extra quarter yard of fabric. But is it harder to get published now than in the slide rule days?

  11. Avatar
    Roxanne August 16, 2016 at 2:13 pm #

    Very good article. I may pin this one up and revisit it from time to time. Thanks for the encouragement and motivation.


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    Janet Ann Collins August 16, 2016 at 8:54 pm #

    Beautiful analogy! You obviously have a creative mind, as I hope we all do.

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    Julie Sunne August 16, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

    Appreciate the fascinating facts and great analogy. Thanks for the perspective check.

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    Reese Hendricks August 18, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    It’s not common that one weds technology with art as well as you have. Thank you!

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    Dan Gray August 29, 2016 at 5:34 pm #

    Dan, your article caught my interest. I thought another lesson in there too. The world travels fast with technology when sometimes its better to slow down and look at the bigger picture. So much is spent on fuel to go fast when simple low cost electricity with the right manipulations can propel thought further.

    I’m terrible with math but enjoy the science. I still have a space shuttle model and set off a model rocket in my youth. We lost it because the second stage flew horizontally somewhere.

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