The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

June 2, 2012

As Time Goes By: Lessons to be learned from the 'thump, whoosh, pop' of Fourth of July

Daily Star

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When I was a kid in Worcester, one of the highlights of the year was a fireworks show on the Fourth of July. It was advertised as a defining moment to watch $1,000 worth of fireworks go up in smoke and this was when $1,000 was real money.

We would sit on the infield grass of the baseball diamond or on the hoods of our cars to watch and wait to participate.

The show would start with a very large "THUMP!" as a rocket was fired into the night sky. Whoosh! A trail of orange sparks would mark the flight of the rocket. Suddenly there would be a "POP" or loud "BANG" followed by a brilliant burst of color in the shape of a rosette. The crowed would participate by saying "Ooh" (for the noise) and "ah" (for the beauty of the rosette) in perfect chorus.

For the better part of an hour all of Worcester would be in complete synchronization: Thump! Whoosh, "ooh _ ah!"

My childhood memories of the events of many Fourths of July enable me to be a "rocket scientist." Normally I try to avoid politics but recent events regarding rocketry compel me to add my "four cents." (Inflation)

I think that sufficient time has expired since the disaster of the rocket launch by North Korea that I could make some comments about the event without causing a diplomatic war or finding my name on a "bad boy" list.

There certainly was enough hype over this rocket launch that was going to carry only civilian equipment into orbit.

It was leaked afterwards that the rocket was carrying an atomic device in the shape of Ronald McDonald. If it had gone off, the burger would have really hit the fan and at that moment the fat lady was going to sing, "Where's the beef?"

The following is my advice to Kim Jong-un, the president of North Korea, who is 29 years old or could be 26 or 27, depending upon what source you are quoting. For a country about to get into the nuclear age, you would at least think that they would know how to count. (I hope he has a valid birth certificate.)

It was rumored that when the rocket failed to get into orbit, President Kim Jung-un stamped his foot in anger and those standing close to him moved away quickly lest they become the brunt of a temper tantrum.

As a former rocket scientist (by virtue of Willard's House of Fireworks in Myrtle Beach) I would like to suggest: "Follow the nuts and bolts."

When a rocket dissolves in space like a sugar cube in hot water you have to face the reality that someone on the engineering team failed to tighten up the 6,969 nuts and bolts holding the rocket together.

My advice to you is to start "patting down" all the engineers who are close to you. Look for someone who has every pocket stuffed with nuts and bolts. If you are lucky, he may be leaving a trail of lock-washers on the ground a la bread crumbs in "Hansel and Gretel."

One very obvious area that is prone for failure is the electrical system. With miles and miles of wire, all you need is some dampness to cause a spark in an area that is filled with lox. (Do not confuse this lox with the lox used to spread on bagels _ this lox is shorthand for "liquid oxygen," which with a spark can go BOOM _ a really BIG BOOM!

Just before the rocket blew up, did you notice anybody standing near you with a little black box with a red button labeled "Do Not Press"?

This can be very difficult to detect because cellphones can be used as the triggering device as well. Look for someone whose lips are moving but are not making a sound.

When you were walking through the wreckage of the rocket debris did you come across odd shaped objects labeled "Tinker-Toy"? Perhaps one of the subcontractors was "cutting costs" by substituting non-spec grade material?

With the world looking "green" is there any chance that someone was diluting the rocket propellant with gasoline or ethanol? Perhaps instead of 86 octane gasoline someone was pumping 83. For years, Americans have worried about getting "watered gas" from gasoline companies whose only goal in life was to separate us from our wallets.

When the rocket went off, did you detect the aroma of french fries, in the exhaust smoke?"

If so ,the propellant provider is cutting his product with leftover oil from Wendy's or Burger King.

Another area that is invariably the source of failures is in the small components such as servo-motors, automatic switches and dials, which are detecting every "burp" from the start to finish of the launch.

When all is said and done after hundreds of man (and woman) hours investigating the cause of the destruction of a multimillion dollar rocket, the root cause is likely to be a tiny electrical gizmo that is labeled "MADE IN CHINA!" whose cost is 15 yen. (If you want the very best, "always look for the union label.")

President Kim, welcome to the reality as a player of a fledgling country trying to carve out a niche of recognition.

If you have any questions regarding rocketry, I would suggest contacting Willard's down in Myrtle Beach or the crazy gang just "South of the Border" on I-95.

Best of all, they are running a "buy one, get one free" promotional program. Save money, shop American.

Henry Geerken is a three-time NYSUT award-winner writing humorous articles addressing retiree and senior citizen concerns. Geerken also writes for Sail-World, World Cruising Newsletter, regarding his many humorous sailing episodes through the years. He can be reached by e-mail at 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at