Book Business

Actually, It IS Rocket Science

I love rockets and space travel stuff. I grew up watching Mercury, Gemini and Apollo manned missions to space and built plastic models of various rockets and capsules. The technology still awes me.

At age twelve I watched liftoffs of manned missions and wrote down the comments of the flight announcer who updated how high and fast the rocket was flying. I’d calculate speed in miles per hour from the “feet per second” metric used by NASA.  (I used a slide-rule to calculate. If you don’t know what a slide-rule is, I have no reasonable way to explain it to you without sounding like a Neanderthal)

I was stunned how something so big as a Saturn V rocket could move so fast.

Recently, I repeated my “calculating obsession” while watching the launch of a U.S. satellite atop the largest rocket currently in use in this country, the Delta IV Heavy. (I used a handheld calculator this time)

The Delta IV Heavy weighs in at 1.6 million pounds at launch…about one-fourth the weight of the 1960-70’s era Saturn V rocket, which sent astronauts to the moon.

Did you catch it? The Saturn V was four times the weight of the largest current rocket.


The June 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral went like this: (based on launch control announcer information)

  • Less than one minute into the flight it surpassed the speed of sound (over 750 mph)
  • At 90 seconds it was over nine miles up and going over 1,700mph
  • At 127 seconds it was over fifteen miles up and speeding along at 2,625mph
  • At 160 seconds it was traveling over 3,300mph and get this, weighed half its original launch weight, just 2 minutes, 40 seconds earlier. It was burning over one and half tons of fuel every second.
  • Twenty seconds later it had accelerated to over 5,300mph and was almost 30 miles up in the air.
  • A minute later, the rocket was technically in space, weighing a small fraction of what it was just four minutes earlier. The acceleration to 17,600 miles per hour required to reach orbit was due greatly to the decreasing weight propelled by the enormous power of the rocket engines.

Using this as a metaphor for writing successfully was simply too easy to pass up.

What rockets teach us about life and writing:

  • Total commitment is required – once the engines start and the rocket is one inch off the launch pad, there is no reversal, no turning back. If you want to succeed at writing, you should not consider a “fall-back” position.
  • Complete reliance on internal power – There is no bow, slingshot or gun propelling the rocket. For Christian authors, this is “Christ in me.” The power is enormous. This is not a self-powered never-give-up attitude relying entirely on a person’s own strength. That kind of power runs out and depends on your mood.
  • Decreasing excess baggage (weight) will increase your speed – is about sacrifice. Successful authors always, always sacrifice something. There are twenty-four hours in a day and only seven days a week. Total commitment is spelled…TIME. You can’t do everything. You must jettison something in order to fully commit to writing. It will never, ever fit nicely into your life unless you make time for it.
  • Failure is necessary to succeed – just like dramatic failures in missile technology have led to great improvement in future programs, so failure with writing is a stepping-stone to success. This is not a motivational slogan. It is a necessary and important aspect of growth. You must fail in order to succeed.

Once in space, the view is spectacular. Every astronaut enjoys the moment because they know the magnitude of the effort it took to get them into orbit.

So authors should never forget what it took to get a book published. It was not simple, without sacrifice or a failure or two along the way.

Holding a printed book in your hand is greeted with a satisfied sigh and quietly appreciated. Then a hearty “woo-hoo” is heard a mile away!


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