engineering

When we think of computers, most of us think of the modern day laptop, or even our smart phones, and when we think of who invented the computer, we think of a man, and that would probably be right, but when NASA thinks of computers, they also have to include the Women of NASA. They were known as “human computers” long before desktop, laptops, or even multi-function calculators existed. Barbara “Barby” Canright joined California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1939. She was the first female “human computer” and her job was to calculate anything from how many rockets were needed to make a plane airborne to what kind of rocket propellants were needed to propel a spacecraft. She did her calculations by hand, with only a pencil and graph paper. It often took more than a week to complete, and her work commonly filled six to eight notebooks with data and formulas. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, her work, along with that of her mostly male teammates, took on a new meaning. There was important work to be done to secure the safety of our nation. The army needed to lift a 14,000 pound bomber into the air, and Barby was responsible for determining the thrust-to-weight ratio and comparing the performance of engines under various conditions, so they could make that happen. Due to the amount of work it was going to take to accomplish this task, more “computers” were hired, including three women Melba Nea, Virginia Prettyman and Macie Roberts.

It was a time when women were mostly homemakers, and in fact, often looked at as probably not able to understand complicated things like math, science, and engineering, but times were changing. We were a nation at war, and many of the men were fighting. Not only did the women step up to the plate, but they showed that they could understand the work they did, as well as, if not better than their male counterparts. In fact, they did their work so well, that their calculations would end up charting the course of many ground breaking missions that would carry United States astronauts to the moon and beyond. These women were an elite team of mathematicians, engineers and scientists, who were tasked with turning numbers into meaningful data at what would later become NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Langley Research Center. They challenged NASA to let them show what they could do, and when NASA did so, they really shined. It was an eye-opening accomplishment, and one that I’m pretty sure many men thought couldn’t be done.

It’s a funny thing, in my mind, that they were called “human computers” though. I suppose the work they did was computing, but the terminology just seems odd. These days, we talk about someone having the mind of a computer, but we don’t call them a computer. I guess that’s because we have computers, and no one would think of a person in that way. The reality is that, while these women were breaking ground in previously uncharted territory, their services would never really become unnecessary. In fact, one of the earliest human computers still works at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Sue Finley is 80 now, and NASA’s longest serving female employee. She was originally hired in 1958 to work on trajectory computations for rocket launches, and is now a software tester and subsystem engineer. She is currently working on NASA’s mission to Jupiter. Her legacy, and that of the other early human computers, is literally written in the stars. What really amazes me is that many people over 70 have no idea how to work a computer, and yet here is this 80 year old woman who is a software tester and subsystem engineer. Amazing!! Totally amazing!!

Young Dave ChaseAs a boy, my niece Toni’s husband, Dave and his brother, Dan were a mischievous pair. They liked to build forts with some big…12 x 6 x 6 inch, cardboard bricks they had, and then they would spend hours in there. It was sort of a boys only club, and an irritation to their sister, Jane, I’m sure. Jane tried repeatedly to get in on the fun, but every time she tried, they knocked all the blocks over on her. Poor Jane didn’t have a chance against those two boys. She was clearly out numbered, and would have to learn to get even or at least to laugh at being picked on, because she would be picked on by her brothers all of their childhood. They still speak, so I guess things worked out one way or the other, and my guess is that eventually the boys got over the whole girls have cooties thing, as well as the blocks thing and that settled it.

When Dave was 6, his dad was a soldier serving in Viet Nam. I’m sure it was a hard time on the entire family, and Dave decided to be a bit rebellious. I’m not sure what he said to his mom, but she decided that the best punishment was to wash his mouth out with soap. I have had that done to me, and believe me…it’s icky. Well, little, big boy, Dave at all of 6 years of age decide that he was not going to put up with this horrendous treatment…after all, with his dad gone, he was the man of the house…or at least one of them. His response was to Karate chop his mom!! It didn’t hurt of course, but his mom was too amused to punish him for the offending words or the chop. I’m sure Dave realized later in life, just how lucky he was that she found that funny, because the opposite could also have been the case, and then it might have been a mouth washing and a spanking. I guess he would have found out who was really in charge then!! And that he wasn’t quite the tough guy he thought he was.

Dave was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He came to the University of Wyoming to get his Toni and Daveengineering degree, and he continues to be a serious Wyoming Cowboys fan to this day. After college was over, he started working at the Bureau of Land Management, where he has worked for 30 years, and that’s where he met my Aunt Sandy. Now you might think that he then met Toni through Aunt Sandy, but you would be wrong. Dave and Toni were introduced by a mutual friend. They decided to go out, and he mentioned to some of the gals at work that he was going out with a friend’s friend named Toni. Aunt Sandy said my niece is named Toni, and showed Dave a picture of our “huge” family. Dave said, “That’s her!” The rest, as they say was history. Today is Dave’s birthday. Happy birthday Dave!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

27016_394747284000_6877317_nThey say that girls often marry a man who is much like their dad, and that seems to be the case with Jessi and Jason. Both Jessie’s dad, and Jason are police officers, but that is only one of the similarities between these two men. They are both serious pranksters, which Jessi tells me reminds her a lot of her dad and her grandpa, my dad. Of course, it is apparently pretty easy to tease Jessi, because she is pretty gullible and believes anything Jason says. For that reason, he never misses an opportunity to try to trick her. I would imagine life in their house is pretty comical.

Another way Jason is like my dad, Jessi’s grandpa, is that when it comes to cars, foreign is simply not an option. Of course, there are several people like that in our family. Most of us really believe that it is best to buy American, and that is Jason’s thought too, but there is another reason for him too. Jason was born in Michigan…just 20 minutes from Detroit. I doubt that someone could be born and raised in that area and not know the importance of buying American made cars.

There are many sides to Jason. He has degrees in engineering and fire science, and also has his pilot’s license; and yet he knew that his true calling was to be a Highway Patrolman. He loves what he does, and of course there is more to being a police officer Jason the pilotthan giving tickets. Jason is the lead Crash Team member in our area, and my kids can attest to the value of that. He was the first one on scene at an accident involving my son-in-law Kevin’s dad. It was such a relief to Kevin and Corrie to have Jason meet them at the edge of the scene and tell them that his dad was ok. He was caring and yet thoroughly did his job on the accident. That is how he handles every accident he deals with…with compassion and professionalism. As Jessi says, “God definitely has special people in mind for every job and this is no exception.” I have to agree. God does place the right people in the right job, and Jason is the kind of person that you want to see after you have been in an accident.

Jason loves kids, and there will definitely be children in the future for Jessi and Jason, but for now he likes to do things with the other kids in the family. On Labor Day weekend, when the family went up to my sister, Caryl and her husband, Mike’s cabin at Seminole Reservoir, Jason took every single kid…10 all together, for rides on the RzR. They all have an amazing time. Jason will never pass up the opportunity to share these kinds of things with a child. He has a very soft heart when it comes to kids.
Jason and Aurora
Like most people, Jason has a nickname. Because of his red hair, they call him Red, Ginger, and a few others that the guys at work have stuck him with. If they tell you to call him one of those, he will probably know exactly who told you to do it. They might think they got away with something…but they didn’t. Jessi says she had no idea that being a redhead was such a big deal, and maybe that’s part of it, but I think it goes back to that sense of humor and a little return teasing, because of all the pranking Jason has done to others in his past. Today is Jason’s birthday. Happy birthday Jason!! Have a wonderful day!! We love you!!

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