Peter M. Leschak’s July 14 commentary “How America got to the moon: The easy way” states that “A man on the moon was a piece of cake” compared with other historical and current challenges. Even as hyperbole, this statement is an expression of naivety. At the time of the moon landing I was only a student engineer working alongside the engineers who made it happen, but from personal experience I know that calling it a cakewalk even in a comparative sense is ludicrous. Some problems are so complex that their complexity is invisible to those who don’t understand them. For reasons that I can’t explain in the word count that I have available, the Apollo 11 success was nothing short of a supernatural miracle. A testament to this is that neither this nation nor any other has repeated this achievement in the past half century. To say “except for the technical details, it was old hat” is like saying “except for the money, anyone can be a millionaire.” My own field, digital electronics, which provided the onboard control for Apollo, has increased by a factor of a million in capacity relative to size and cost since the moon landing (consistent with Moore’s Law). But even now, sending humans to the moon would not be a cakewalk. Yet, ironically, I agree with the final conclusion of the article: Rather than sending any more humans into space, we should use robotics for all further space exploration.
Bill Hamer, Apple Valley
• • •
I agree completely with Leschak’s commentary. The most important part of the mission was the stunningly beautiful pictures of Earth, our island home. The lesson we should have learned from this experience is that our Earth is truly an island of life in an otherwise hostile and lifeless universe. There are probably millions of other planets like ours in the universe, but they are forever beyond our reach. Unless a new physics is discovered that enables us to exceed the speed of light, the unimaginably huge size of the universe means that our Earth is our destiny. To continue to focus national attention and resources on space exploration while we continue to degrade our environment is a suicidal fool’s errand. What we desperately need is visionary political leadership that will motivate us to create a sustainably clean environment for all life. That is how we can truly make America great again.
Clifford Robinson, Brooklyn Park
MOONSHOT QUALITY CONTROL
‘The hard way’ article gives insight to the efforts of family members
In “How America got to the moon: The hard way” (July 14), about an intense analysis of a Honeywell “rate gyro” used in the Apollo missions, James Lenz perfectly summarizes the decline in quality standards in business that has resulted in deadly consequences.
My father-in-law, Ray Hagen Sr., was an aeronautical/electrical engineer who worked at Honeywell in Minneapolis for more than 30 years. He was actively involved in the space mission, including Apollo 11. My husband talks about how his dad taught him about gyros and their relation to stabilizing rockets, and also about the electrical systems in the space shuttles. He stressed how important it was to go through countless hours of testing, months of reworking. Perfection and safety were paramount. Honeywell employees were held to a high standard. My father-in-law, a math whiz, never used a computer. A slide rule was always handy in his front shirt pocket. Old-school diligence has been replaced by computer software.
The astronauts, American heroes, knew full well the dangers they signed up for. On the other hand, passengers flying on Boeing planes — Lenz’s modern-day example — rightfully expect that aircraft to be safe. This paradigm shift in corporate responsibility and focus on expediency and the financial bottom line poses major ethical questions. In my opinion, following the crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max 8 aircraft, some of those Boeing executives should be sent to prison.
Linda Benzinger, Minneapolis
• • •
I would like to thank Lenz for his commentary. He gave me more insights to what my father, Charlie Kaminski, did at Honeywell as a mechanical engineer who specialized in gyroscopes and ball bearings in the Aerospace Division. He was so proud of his contribution to the Gemini and Apollo space programs. During the TV coverage of those spaceflights, when CBS showed mockups of the Apollo command module, Dad would often point to a gauge in the mockup and say, “That’s my instrument!” I don’t remember if Dad ever told us the name of the instrument, but it could very well have been one of the rate gyros Lenz discussed in the article.
Dad retired from Honeywell sometime in 1980 due to ill health, and I don’t know if he worked with Lenz, but I do know Dad put his heart and soul into those gyros. I’m so proud that Dad’s efforts in some small way helped us reach the moon.
Nancy Kaminski, Minneapolis
• • •
I can’t understand how Lenz came to the conclusion that Honeywell would no longer be diligent about ensuring that all of its equipment and software was safe and of the highest quality that was apparent during the Apollo program.
I was a program manager from 1991 until I retired in 2000. During those years I was responsible for the successful execution of many high-profile programs. There were some schedule and safety issues with our guidance, control and navigation systems, and these programs had the interests of CEOs and Air Force generals, who were pushing for quick resolution of the problem and the schedule. Honeywell held the course to ensure safety and quality first, even when it required internal funds and schedule delay. We delivered high-quality systems in all cases. This is the Honeywell I know and love. From my experience I see no reason to believe that Honeywell would not continue to follow the business of delivering high-quality and safe equipment foremost.
Bob Skoyles, Plymouth
Yet another inequitable system
The July 14 front-page article on the state’s overcrowded driver testing system highlights teens whose families can afford the time and resources to get a test scheduled on an online system where openings are rare, then travel hundreds of miles and make overnight stays to take the test. What about the person who has to go to the library to access a computer and can’t spend the entire day hitting “refresh” hoping a cancellation might open up in the registration system? Or the person working two minimum-wage jobs to meet their monthly rent who has no paid vacation and can’t afford a hotel? Or the recent immigrant who is waiting to start a new job for lack of a driver’s license?
This is a classic example of inequity in a public system that contributes to the disparities across our state, where people with economic, racial and linguistic privilege can navigate an overburdened and inefficient system and access workarounds. That is why we should be outraged and not because 16-year-olds and their families are inconvenienced. Our state agencies, legislators and governor should recognize this as an equity issue and create a systemic solution, going far beyond the most recent legislative funding for seven additional examiners.
Andrea Jasken Baker, Minneapolis
Minnesota, a red state? Ha!
As I was looking at the photos accompanying the July 14 front-page article “GOP aims to turn Minnesota red,” I could not help noticing that in all three there was nothing but a sea of white faces. It’s very telling and shows just who comprises President Donald Trump’s base. Hopefully, after the horrible things this president has said and done these past 2½ years, more-moderate Republicans will wake up. In any event, I don’t really see Minnesota ever being a truly red state.
Paige Turner, Oak Grove