Review: Think Like a Rocket Scientist
by Jeff Foust
|Longuski uses chapters not only to describe the thinking processes of rocket scientists, but also, on occasion, to level some criticism at NASA and the shuttle program in particular.|
Longuski, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue, states the seven secrets in the form of simple action verbs: dream, judge, ask, check, simplify, optimize, and do. In other words, when faced with a particular problem or challenge, rocket scientists brainstorm potential solutions, analyze them relentlessly to find the most promising approaches, simplify and optimize them as much as possible to fit the problem at hand, and then implement them. Simple enough, it seems, but already this is more complex than the current bestselling self-help pablum on the bookshelves, The Secret, which simply advises people to imagine what they desire and, if they visualize it hard enough, it will come true. Maybe this is rocket science, after all…
Each of the seven “secrets” gets its own section in the book, each composed of brief chapters (none more than a few pages long) with specific suggestions: the section on “check”, for example, includes chapters titled “Do a Sanity Test” and “Check Your Arithmetic”. All these tips are illustrated with anecdotes, many from Longuski’s career at Purdue and, earlier, JPL. Longuski uses these chapters not only to describe the thinking processes of rocket scientists, but also, on occasion, to level some criticism at NASA and the shuttle program in particular. The shuttle and its flaws, he believes, are evidence that NASA abandoned the rigorous processes that got the agency to the Moon in the 1960s. “It is time,” he advises at the end of the book, “for NASA to start thinking like rocket scientists again.”
It’s interesting that, today, NASA still retains its image as a high-tech agency even though large fractions of its budget are spent on programs like the shuttle that are on the trailing edge, rather than the leading edge, of technological innovation. Likewise, “rocket science” and “rocket scientist” still retain their connotations as complex fields and intelligent people today, even as more people go into fields like biotechnology and nanotechnology that are every bit as complex and demanding as aerospace. That said, The Seven Secrets of How to Think Like a Rocket Scientist offers a good approach to successfully handling challenges in any advanced field, not just rocket science. In other words, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to think like one.