I’ve been an engineer for 30 years. There are a lot of aspects to being an engineer. Hardly any of them are really cool. When people ask me what my job is like, I explain that my job is to type, talk on the phone, and go to meetings. When they press me for details, I tell them that I spend 1/3 of my time writing down what I’m going to do, another 1/3 of my time telling people what I’m doing, and the rest of the time arguing about what we should have done.
But no task, no meeting, nothing I’ve ever done would compare to being the NASA engineer assigned to “collaborate” with Mattel on the Mars Explorer Barbie project.
Manager: Bob, I’m pulling you off the exoplanet search program, and I’m assigning you to Project Space Barbie.
Bob: Hmmm, a zero-g barbecue for the International Space Station? That sounds pretty cool! Thanks, Joe!
Joe: No, Bob, you’re going to be a consultant on the design of Mars Explorer Barbie.
Bob: Oh, I misunderstood. You want a grill that will cook meat in the thin Martian atmosphere. Interesting… I have a few ideas…
Joe: Bob, you’ve got this all wrong. Let me explain. You exoplanet guys are out there searching the stars for other worlds to explore. When we get to these new worlds, our astronauts are going to want to blend in, so they can study the alien cultures.
Bob: Yeah, so?
Bob: Can’t we just put space explorers in miniskirts and go-go boots?
Joe: Too futuristic! We’re still a couple centuries away from that. No, we need something that will work in today’s space program, while still helping us recruit for future generations. Can you do it?
Bob: Well, as you can see by the light bulb over my head, I have an idea. If I’m right, I can come up with a space suit that has enough pink to blend into any magenta or fuchsia landscape, but it will require a helmet shaped like a vanity mirror light bulb. Can you find me astronaut candidates with realistic body images and incredibly long necks?
Joe: I think we may have a message that will resonate with that particular demographic.
Bob: Then I’m your man!
(Disclaimer: Engineers will basically work on anything if you make it sound futuristic enough.)
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