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SpaceX reveals what’s lacking in Washington, D.C.

  • Author: Frank Baker
    | Opinion
  • Updated: February 12
  • Published February 12

As cable television networks droned on and on about the stale air in Washington, D.C., and endless squabbles within our nonfunctional federal government, the successful SpaceX rocket launch on Feb. 6 was a huge gulp of pure oxygen.

It was also a reminder that throughout history, the world's greatest achievements have been made through teamwork. NASA proved this soundly in 1969 when it sent our first astronauts to the moon. SpaceX demonstrated it Feb. 6, just a week ago.

A private company, SpaceX employs about 7,000 people and is partnered with many contractors. They worked years on this amazing project. It showed in the jubilant faces of employees and contractors when they realized the launch of the Falcon 9 Heavy came off nearly flawlessly.

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Feb. 6, 2018. (REUTERS/Joe Skipper)

Obviously, that feat required the best of 21st-century technology. And that technology came through substantial capital investments and collaboration on the part of many people.

Engineers and scientists with whom I worked in Alaska's oil industry for 30 years were continuously meeting and collaborating – bouncing ideas off of each other to ultimately find the most cost-effective, efficient and reliable solutions to  technical issues.

It's unfortunate that our elected officials in Congress don't work the same way. Their modus operandi is consistently to protect their own seat within their given political party.

Perhaps it's a phenomenon of society at large, but there seems to be a tendency to not listen to others and to silo opinions – dwelling in a narrow and comfortable set of precepts. Thus, they promulgate the "my way or the highway approach."

This doesn't work in the world of science and engineering. Although only three individuals (Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne) were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering gravitational waves, there were scores, if not hundreds of scientists, involved in the effort in some way.

Mapping the human genome took 13 years. The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium–as the Human Genome Project team was known–involved scientists from 20 institutions in six countries: France, Germany, Japan, China, the U.K. and the U.S.

Cooperation and compromise seem to be as remote in Washington, D.C., as Elon Musk's SpaceX sports-car payload — now speeding deep into space to enter an orbit around the sun.

Scientists in general and theoretical physicists in particular are the vanguard of professionals who comprehend the importance of collaboration. And they have learned that there can be several approaches in the process of reaching the right answer, and that often that "right answer" is provisional.

I can imagine that during the long and painstaking work by SpaceX to develop the Falcon 9 Heavy and get it off the ground, there were disagreements and times when people had to admit they were wrong – that other approaches were needed. People had to communicate clearly and listen to one another.

That's simply how the world works. I'm wondering whether we'll ever see that kind of collaboration in our nation's capital. Perhaps SpaceX should conduct seminars for our elected officials on how to work together for a common goal.

Frank E. Baker is a lifetime Alaskan and freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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