At some point in your life you have undoubtabley heard the phrase, “well it ain’t Rocket Science.” Usually people mean this to say that whatever we are doing isn’t as hard as it seems, or at least as hard as we are treating it. The implication that Rocket Science is difficult and the task at hand is easy in comparison. Well guess what I’m here to tell you, Rocket Science…it ain’t all that difficult.
In the spirit of science let’s do some comparisons. In Medicine you have 11 Systems, 60 plus Organs, and those annoying things called ethics to worry about. In biology you have 6 Kingdoms, 100 Phyla, and innumerable classes, orders, families, genuses, and species to deal with. In computer Science you have dozens of computing languages, hundreds of different types of commands, and zero life. But in Rocket Science you just have two directions: Up and Down.
It’s a bit of an oversimplification, ok it’s a big oversimplification, but it still holds. When you design a Rocket it has one job to do, go up. When you want to go to space all you need is a big enough engine to counter the force of gravity and enough fuel to get you where you need to go. Once your in space it gets even easier. because you also don’t have a pesky atmosphere to slow you down, so you can blast around to your hearts content without having to worry about silly little things like aerodynamic drag, hypersonic shockwaves, and superheated plasma to deal with.
For example getting to the moon really isn’t all that hard, all it takes is a few equations, some precisely timed burns, a little ingenuity, and a crap ton of fuel. Like an incomprehensible amount of fuel. Like enough fuel to fill a 36 story building. The calculations aren’t even all that difficult, it’s all conics, and a little sliver of pre-calculus, hell your average High Schooler could do it.
The real challenge with Rocket Science is just making sure things don’t explode. So much fuel goes into launching things into space, that if anything goes wrong, and I mean anything, the entire ship will detonate. Case and point the following video:
Add to that the general inhospility of outer space, and the enormous cost of fuel and you find that rocket scientists are held to an impeccably high standard. If you spend 10 billion dollars designing and building a ship to study mars, it better damn work when it gets there. Once you start putting people on top of your giant space faring fireball, then things get even scarier. If seven people die in a freeway accident no one moves a muscle, it’s just your average tuesday, but if seven people die rocketing off to the final frontier it’s a national tragedy (and rightly so). And so Rocket Scientists have to be extraordinarily carful, lest something goes wrong. There’s very little margin for error with these things so everything must be perfect. But when it works it’s just plain awesome.