I once designed something that went up in the Space Shuttle. It’s not quite as fancy as that might sound however. 21 years ago, I had been settling in to a new job working for an about-to-launch space mission. I’d been hired to code some applications for the mission but had a group manager who was very confident in my general jack-of-all trades, try anything approach to work. She nonchalantly asked me one day if I could design something that would go up in the Space Shuttle for them. It was an all-hands-on-deck kind of phase in the mission so of course I agreed.
What would I be designing? A banner for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory mission that would launch the following year, STS-93, on Space Shuttle Columbia (being led by the first woman to command a NASA space shuttle mission, Commander Eileen Collins). Now, I absolutely don’t consider myself a *designer*, at all. I can identify what good design looks like perhaps, but have little skill to actually do it. But there was no one else around to give it a try, so I jumped in. I had the weird job of figuring out what sort of materials could go up in the shuttle (it was a special fire-retardant material), what size would work best, what might look good in microgravity, etc. We had a logo for the mission so I started with that and built around it.
When, after launch, the STS-93 crew with Eileen Collins, Cady Coleman and the rest of the astronauts on board took their in-flight photo, the banner was behind them. They brought the banner back to Earth too, of course, and it now hangs in our Chandra Operations Control Center, a memento of the hard work it takes to launch a complicated and sophisticated X-ray telescope up beyond our atmosphere.
Though I have to admit I cringe quite a bit at the design of that banner twenty years later, I’m still rather proud to have had a hand in it at all – and to have had the kind of manager who let me wander down all sorts of paths – then and ever since. The banner was a clue as to how my job would work: have an idea, play it out, research/refine/repeat.
What new things have you tried lately?