Reason Versus Imagination

November 1st, 2019

By Michael W. Gos

Nassau Bay, Texas

There is an iconic phrase from the movie Apollo 13 that we all know, and many of us often use: “Houston, we have a problem.” And of course we all know the first word spoken from the surface of the moon was “Houston.” The problem is, if we are being truthful, neither phrase is correct. They should have said “Nassau Bay.” That is the location of the Johnson Space Center.

Several years ago, I was at Space Center Houston for a Purdue Alumni party and fundraiser. Our host was the last man to set foot on the moon and fellow Purdue alumnus, Gene Cernan. The facility was closed except for our group and we were given access to a lot of things others don’t get to see. And each of them amazed me. The sheer size of the full scale copy of the space station, for instance, was awe-inspiring. Seeing the old Mercury program control room and the various rockets seemed almost like a fantasy.

I suppose learning about our space program’s early days would overwhelm most people. Just think of the minute technical details that all had to be just right to make the whole lunar project work. The engineers did it without computers—generally depending solely on slide rules. I think most people would marvel at the attention to detail and the rational, logical abilities of the people who made this all happen.

Not me. I was totally blown away by something entirely different—the creativity of it all. I was in awe of the imagination that made this all possible.

In 1961, in spite of the fact that we had yet to successfully put a man in space at all, President John Kennedy announced we would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
NASA got word of the impending announcement only about four weeks before the speech. The problem was, there was nothing even close to a plan for this enormous project, and there had to be a plan ready before the announcement. NASA engineer Bill Fleming (another fellow Purdue alum) was given four weeks to come up with a plan detailing “all facets” of the program to get us to the moon. The plan had to be ready in time for Kennedy’s announcement in September—an enormous assignment with a ridiculous deadline! Four weeks later, Fleming and his team submitted a report over 500 pages long detailing the overall plan, phases of the project, more than 1,200 tasks and a full budget for the program.

I think it is safe to say most people would begin a project like this by designing a rocket to go the moon, and their work would have been concentrated along those lines. But Fleming wasn’t thinking like most people. Instead of getting down to the rational, logical details of getting to the moon, he was much more imaginative. He saw the problem differently. He chose instead to divide the huge project into three separate phases, or missions: orbit the earth, circle the moon, and finally, the actual landings. Today we look back at this radical decision and we understand the beauty of it. First, it makes perfect sense given what had to be learned and what skills needed to be developed, and second, it is incredibly time-efficient because we can have people working on missions two and three even as we are just starting mission one. Time was the thing in shortest supply.

Then there was John Houbolt, who came up with the wild idea that a moon landing should involve three vehicles, not one. At the time, the idea most commonly endorsed was a science-fiction-like rocket that would launch from earth, land on the moon, then launch from the moon and travel back to earth. A vehicle that would escape earth’s gravity, travel all the way to the moon, launch a second time and then travel all the way back to earth would have taken both enormous amounts of hardware and fuel. It would have taken a rocket much more powerful than the available Saturn V to launch the payload necessary to do it in this more “popular” way.

Concerned first and foremost with weight, Houbolt asked the unusual question, “Why not leave the fuel for the return trip to earth up in the moon’s orbit?” Houbolt’s idea was called the lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) concept. It meant a moon landing would require three vehicles: a Saturn 5 (three stage) rocket, a command module, and a lunar landing module.
His idea was considered so radical that one NASA engineer said “Houbolt has a scheme that has a 50 percent chance of getting a man to the moon and a 1 percent of getting him back.” Another said “His figures lie, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” (thespacereview.com).

Looking back, both Fleming and Houbolt had ideas that we now can see make perfect sense. They are completely logical and we understand why they worked. But someone had to think of them, and logic clearly was less important in that process than imagination. Remember the comments of some of the more “logical” engineers about Houbolt’s plan.
The fact is, if we want a “complete” world we can’t have the “higher” trait (logic and reason) without first establishing its foundation—imagination. We often stereotype engineers as logic-based number nerds, and perhaps many of them are. But the fact is, details and numbers are useless until we have the “Big Idea.”

Were these two men any less rational/logical/technical just because they were imaginative? Clearly not. To truly be effective, to be someone like Fleming and Houbolt, we really need to excel at both.

Many of us tend to classify people into one of two groups, either as creative types, or detail people. But is there really such a clear distinction? While it may be true that some people seem to be better at the big picture, at finding creative solutions to problems, do these identifications have to hold true? We hear that people have an “orientation.” They are detail-oriented, or they are creative. They are rational and logical or they are imaginative. They are “left-brained” or “right-brained.”

Science has achieved so much in the decades since Apollo and yet still today, imagination is often overlooked in favor of the rational. We never could have gotten to the moon or achieved any of the other technological advances since then with reason alone? We must first conceive, then build.

Neither creativity nor logic are genetic gifts. They are developed skills. And both can be cultivated in the individual if we try. Obviously, it is best if we begin that work in childhood. But it is never too late to develop these skills in ourselves—if we really want to.

Left brain/right brain. Do we really want to go through life with half a brain?

Nassau Bay to dredge Lake Nassau

July 29th, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-477576294Nassau Bay has announced plans for its Lake Nassau Dredging project, which will focus on removing buildup of sediment from the lake bottom.

“Lake Nassau is a vital part of our city. Dredging is a necessary project to protect the future of the lake. It will improve drainage in the city and increase the water capacity and quality to enhance aquatic life,” said City Manager Chris Reed.

Phase 1, beginning Aug. 3, will include excavating approximately 1,900 cubic yards of sediment and placing it in the 1.8 acre section in the open field behind the park pavilion. This material will go through a drying process and eventually be used in the trail expansion project in the park.

Phase 2 will begin immediately after Phase 1 completion and include dredging the inlet area of Lake Nassau and transporting that material to the holes dug during Phase 1. Lake Nassau Park will still be open for the public to enjoy. Orange construction fencing will block off the work area. Park visitors should be careful and cautious around the work area and stay away from the fenced areas for their own safety.

Each phase should last approximately three weeks and this entire dredging project should be complete by mid-September. “Please be patient with us during the process and contact us if you have any questions,” said Reed.

For questions regarding this project, contact the Public Works Department at 281-333-2944.

Nassau Bay parties the night away

June 1st, 2015

Kiss Alike takes the stage.

Kiss Alike takes the stage.

Story and photos by Lainey Black

The City of Nassau Bay put on a great Spring Fling party on the square this year! Everyone partied the night away May 8 in the town square. The city hosts the Spring Fling every year as a way to thank the community with an event that is fun for the whole family.

Nassau Bay puts together four different events throughout the year to give the citizens an opportunity to enjoy a night out of the house. This year’s Spring Fling was organized by Kristi Sykora, who is the town’s newest special events and communication director. “We try to put on an event that everyone enjoys,” Sykora said, “something that is fun for all age groups, and gives us a chance to give back to the community and say thank you for all of their support.”

The event was from 7 until 11 and the rain chance was around 30 percent with a lot of hopefuls for the rain to hold off since the event had already been rescheduled due to rain. There were some local favorites such as the band Kiss Alike, food trucks Angies Cake: cakeballs and cakepops and Lone Star Samwiches, and other activities.

Fans gather around as the band sets up to preform.

Fans gather around as the band sets up to preform.

The night started out with the 80s cover band The Rads, who were dressed in their best character costumes. What a show they put on! They were the perfect band to get everyone pumped for the main event. Around 9, the main band Kiss Alike came on.  As soon as they hit the stage everyone started dancing and singing along to all of their favorite Kiss songs.  And they rocked all night long! Well… till 11 at least.

Throughout the night there were other activities for people to enjoy such as face painting, a hand rolled cigar lounge, and a green screen photo booth. What was really cool is they showed their home town spirit for #rednation and played the rockets playoff game on their inflatable outdoor big screen.

Lainey Black and Kathy George  enjoy the event.

Lainey Black and Kathy George
enjoy the event.

Of course none of this would have been possible without the help of some wonderful community volunteers such as the City of Nassau Bay Fire Department, Clear Springs High School Wrestling Club and the City of Nassau Bay EMS. These great volunteers made sure that everything ran smoothly and everyone stayed safe.

All and all, the Spring Fling was a great success and is a great option for an event to get the whole family together. I am personally looking forward to their next event that should be happening Aug. 18. For any information on events happening around the Nassau Bay or to possibly help sponsor any of these events, you can find the most current information on its Facebook page www.facebook.com/nassaubay  or call 281-333-4211.