01
Feb
16

GETTING IT RIGHT

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It may not have been the seminal engineering moment that was Apollo 11’s landing on the moon, but a few weeks ago—just before last year ticked away—SpaceX gently and safely landed a Falcon 9 rocket back on the ground.

Even if you’re not a fan of space of travel, that was a remarkable moment and a dazzling engineering feat. Only through the prism of science fiction had a rocket ever landed safely back on Earth. Several previous attempts at a safe landing had turned into fiery explosions.

The Falcon 9 is no bottle rocket. It’s a 15-story, nine-engine missile that produces 1.5 million pounds of thrust and can lug a heavy payload. In this case, it was carrying 11 small data-relay satellites for low-Earth orbit.

Just a few weeks before the successful touchdown, I met Lars Blackmore, the principal rocket landing engineer at SpaceX, which is owned by the innovator Elon Musk. Blackmore is responsible for entry, descent, and landing of the Falcon 9, yet he had no qualms talking about the spectacular failures. He stood firm on the conviction that it was only a matter of time before he and his team would get it right.

Blackmore spoke eloquently about the commitment to excellence that Musk preaches to his team and the dedication that is necessary to make sure that even the minor details of each of his algorithms are exact.

As I write this month’s column, Blackmore’s comments on attention to detail resonate strongly. For the past 17 years I have been privileged to work with an individual who, above all else, has always placed a priority on “getting it right.” Harry Hutchinson, the magazine’s executive editor, is retiring, and to say the magazine will never be the same is an understatement.

Anyone who ever contributed to the magazine with a letter or personal note, or who may have pitched a story, has most likely interacted with Harry. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve interacted with him, too. Harry sprinkles his editorial deft in every piece of copy he touches—he’s a master at his craft.

Harry’s also a colorful character the likes of which you’re not likely to find around much anymore. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Old and Middle English and is eager to delve into the private lives of people you’re not likely to have ever heard of, let alone know anything about. He’s rarely seen without a tie and Fedora, even on his travels to Southeast Asia. He’s also a kind and humble man who befriends the needy on the streets of New York with friendship and assistance. And when he sold his New Jersey house last year, at closing he gave the buyers a check, “just in case they need to fix the place up a bit.” But if you’re one of his writers, and he thinks you’re not getting it right, he’ll let you know it, in no uncertain terms.

On a relative scale, the impact Harry has made on the magazine when he landed here, is no less brilliant than Blackmore landing Falcon 9. Harry’s kept his eye focused steadfastly on you, the reader: Always understanding what you need to know, and lobbying to publish what you want to read.

Thanks for getting it right all these years, Harry.

 


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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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