There are places I go, things I do that have a major impact on my life but because they area moment in time I sometimes for get how big an impact they had. Take the picture here for instance. This was my work space at a place in Connecticut. It looks more like a closet of storage space when in reality this is where I made transducers for the space shuttles. Ya, THOSE space shuttles. THE space shuttles. The only place that made them and for a few years I was the person responsible.
There is an ashtray there, tucked between the two units in the bottom picture. In those days we smoked inside, national security and lives be damned. It was still common to see people smoke in buildings, hospitals and factories and even places we made sensitive units like transducers.
What the transducer did was check the propellant regulation for the craft, so on take off, landing and during flight it was constantly being checked and regulated. That may not be the best description but it’s the best I can do. Often times when a mission was scrubbed it was because of one of these little transducers. I came on board after the Columbia explosion so as you can imagine there were a lot of checks and balances. After a nine month build process my little tiny room became home to some pretty serious NASA inspectors. I had two “ovens” that cycled through any temperature a shuttle might encounter so from hot to cold, really really hot to really really cold, once those babies were built we sat and watched dials for days. Me and the NASA guys in their suits and cropped hair and serious faces.
As often happens this is not a story about that, this is about my time working there. This started before Max, before quitting smoking, before I learned to be the person I am today. When I first started there by boss thought I was a nerd, I had these big plastic framed, 80’s style glasses and even for break I would sit in my little room and read. When my ‘ducers were in the weld shop I would go out on the floor and work on the transducers for the stealth bombers, that was when people got to know me and realized that I was anything BUT a nerd.
I met refugees from Cambodia and Laos, “boat” people who did whatever it took to survive. Families lost, people that just disappeared, escape and recapture. Perhaps my first look at that part world outside of the United States. There was a woman there that always wore dresses and heels, she had grown up wearing sack clothe, “pajamas” as we call them. She was married at 16, had two children when the communists came and took her husband. She never saw him again. By age 20 she had made it over the border of Cambodia only to be captured and brought back, twice. Once she finally got out and got her family sponsored she vowed to never wear anything but beautiful clothes again. It’s where I learned to be grateful.
I got pregnant while working there. One of my Rockwell/NASA inspectors sent me flowers when I had my son. An experience of someone being kind and doing something because “it’s what you’re supposed to do”. I didn’t have a lot of social skills like that, not that I wasn’t taught, I had never experienced it so I didn’t understand how it felt or why we do it.
It was where it was where I worked when I learned about hemophilia and treatments and how to manage insurance. It’s where I learned stand up for myself because I had to stand up for him. I learned that I wasn’t less than someone just because they wore a suit or had an education. The hours the NASA inspectors and I spent in that little tiny room talking about family, habits, life helped me realize people are people. I suspect it helped me in future years when it was time to go sit in a senator’s office or talk to a medical specialist.
When I had Max, they gave me a party. When the new space shuttle program got discontinued , they weren’t making new ones, just using the ones they had, I was out of a job so I got laid off, they gave me a party. I got called back because someone had to maintain the existing transducers. Then they scrapped the whole shuttle program altogether and I got laid off, again. They gave me a party. I learned that people liked me.
All of this happened in a four year period, this whole lifetime of experience and the picture here, this is all I have. Well, that and my son and my memories. I don’t have contact with any of my coworkers. Someone did look me up on Linked In a couple years ago but I have not heard from him since. I wonder if I would have even had these realizations if I hadn’t come across this picture.
What this has done is given my the opportunity to look back on more of the places I have been, the people I have met and the things I learned from them. After all, who I am is the accumulation of my experiences. The good, the bad, the unpleasant, the joy. All had to be learned. I am a most fortunate person to have had so many experiences.