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Drbuzz0
2008-Jul-02, 08:09 PM
You hear the word "rocket scientist" in plenty of contexts "it doesn't take a rocket scientist" or "He's not quite a rocket scientist." Or "It's damn near rocket science to get this to work."

I have yet to actually get any kind of answer as to what a "rocket scientist" is. Presumably a rocket scientist would be a scientist who studies rockets, but that doesn't really make a lot of sense because rockets are not natural systems - their workings are well known.

The rocket is certainly not designed by a rocket scientist. Rockets are designed by aerospace engineers. There may be electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and others involved, but they're generally engineers. Sure, a scientist may be involved in this pursuit, but in this case the scientist is not acting in the capacity of a scientist but rather in the capacity of an engineer.

The rockets are not operated or constructed by scientists either. They're operated by technicians and engineers as well. They're not even piloted by scientists. Yes, an astronaut may qualify as a scientist in certain activities, but in the capacity of controlling the rocket they're more of a pilot than a scientist. The fact that the science takes place on a spacecraft doesn't make it "rocket science" any more than a meteorologist who is flying on a hurricane chaser is an "airplane scientist" no.. the airplane is incidental.


A "scientist," acting in the capacity of a scientist, that is, would only really be concerned with the data returned from the payload of the rocket. In this case again, the rocket is incidental and is only a means of transporting instruments or test subjects into space. And on top of this, the scientist involved is almost certainly not someone who is concerned exclusively with science that comes from payloads that ride on rockets. Likely they're also interested in data that comes from ground-based simulations, telescopes, airborne microgravity simulators, teresterial detectors, medical data, theory and so on.

Is an astrophysicist a rocket scientist? Not really. Plenty of astrophysics doesn't in any way involve actual rocketry or space missions.

What about an astronomer? You could be a very accomplished astronomer and never work with data from an instrument that came anywhere near a rocket.

Aside from that, a rocket is not even necessarily the only way you could get to space. Supposed there is a launch involving a system that relies on a combination of a magnetic catapult and scramjets. By definition this is NOT a rocket. In that case do the scientists who work with data from the payload not count as rocket scientists?

The *best* I can come up with would possibly be some kind of materials scientist working in the capacity of the development of a rocket engine. That really doesn't even seem like a "rocket scientist" because this is applied science which borders on engineering anyway, and it's really a narrow definition and not even really science of rocketry as a whole.

01101001
2008-Jul-02, 08:15 PM
You hear the word "rocket scientist" in plenty of contexts "it doesn't take a rocket scientist" or "He's not quite a rocket scientist." Or "It's damn near rocket science to get this to work."

Wikipediaists thought long and hard about it (or someone whipped up an entry on a whim) and came up with Rocket science (http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_science):


Rocket science is an informal term for aerospace engineering especially as it concerns rockets which launch spacecraft into or operate in outer space.

Due to the complexity and depth of this area of engineering (requiring mastery in subjects including mechanics (fluid mechanics, structural mechanics, orbital mechanics, flight dynamics), mathematics, control engineering, materials science, aeroelasticity, avionics, reliability engineering, noise control and flight test), it is also informally used as a term to describe an endeavor requiring great intelligence or technical ability. More often, the term is used to describe an endeavor that is simple and straightforward by stating that the aforementioned endeavor "is not rocket science".

aurora
2008-Jul-02, 08:15 PM
I would say that a rocket scientist conducts research intended to improve rockets, or create new types of rockets or new ways of using rockets.

Applied research is still research. Science does not have to be purely theoretical.

matthewota
2008-Jul-02, 09:15 PM
It is definitely a poor misnomer, since aerospace engineers are engineers, not scientists.

Scientist study natural phenomenon, not aerospace vehicles.

I shirk every time I hear the term.

slang
2008-Jul-02, 09:57 PM
Robert Goddard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Goddard_%28scientist%29)
Wernher Von Braun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wernher_von_Braun)
Sergey Korolyov (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergey_Korolyov)

To name a few. I suppose nowadays rocketry is more engineering than daring science but it wasn't always like that.

Bearded One
2008-Jul-02, 10:40 PM
This topic reminds me of a poster I saw in an employment office one time. There was a HR type gal behind a big desk talking to an applicant. The office had a big bay window and outside you saw launch platforms and even a rocket launching off a pad. The HR gal was saying to the applicant "Well, actually you do have to be a rocket scientist to work here." :lol:

TrAI
2008-Jul-03, 01:41 AM
Hmmm... There was always quite a bit of overlap between theoretical science and engineering, they are in many ways just two sides of the same thing. In fact, science is simply the amassing of knowledge, both theoretical science and engineering does this, so both are scientific fields regardless of how people have chosen to seperate them.

I would say we might make something like the fire triangle to illustrate science, Perhaps we could put theoretical science on the top, and experimental science and practical/applied science(engineering) at the bottom. If one of these had been removed, the others would not have been able to progress as effectively.

AGN Fuel
2008-Jul-03, 04:31 AM
I don't know when the first recorded use of the term was, but it would be easy to imagine the mystique surrounding the engineers and scientists building rocket engines in the 50's and 60's for flight into space.

To the layman, discussions about fluid and flight dynamics, metallurgy, hypergolic fuels, etc would have been like a foreign language. However, these were the people that, with the advent of the space race, upon whose shoulders the pride and honour of a nation rested. As such, they were at the forefront of public consciousness, despite the fact that the vast bulk of the population couldn't begin to understand what they did!

I could imagine that the term 'Rocket Scientist' as an expression for someone who did highly technical work, could become popular around that time.

astromark
2008-Jul-03, 08:07 AM
As 'AGN Fuel' has told you... The term 'Rocket science' was established to explain to the masses what getting a payload aloft was. Back in the late 40's and early 1950's rocket science was at the fulcrum of respectability. They were just working it out that there are other uses for rockets than the V1. Today we call them what ever they are. Technicians and Engineers... Its still rocket science.
In modern language we often use the term to describe some cleaver sod. Look around, this forum has a few... and its not me.:)-:)

LotusExcelle
2008-Jul-03, 11:07 AM
Isn't engineering a kind of science? Trial and error, empirical data, etc etc.

parallaxicality
2008-Jul-03, 11:09 AM
Has anyone on this board actually met a rocket scientist? In light of Edward Teller, I've always imagined them as slightly insane, like pyromaniacs with PhDs.

grant hutchison
2008-Jul-03, 11:24 AM
I don't know when the first recorded use of the term was, but it would be easy to imagine the mystique surrounding the engineers and scientists building rocket engines in the 50's and 60's for flight into space.Yes, the Oxford English Dictionary gives its first citations for "rocket scientist" from the 1950s: the same decade also gave us "rocket pilot".


Has anyone on this board actually met a rocket scientist?I have. He worked at JPL for a while, IIRC. I knew he was a rocket scientist because of his T-shirt, which read, "Actually, I am a rocket scientist".
He also owned another I liked better. It read, "ROCKET SCIENCE (to be honest, it's not rocket science)".

Grant Hutchison

parejkoj
2008-Jul-03, 01:17 PM
Grant: I think I recall a couple people at JPL with shirts like that.

I really should buy one of the latter some time...

aurora
2008-Jul-03, 02:34 PM
I met the man who invented the hydrazine thrusters that maneuver robotic missions.

I would say he was a scientist and an engineer both.

John Mendenhall
2008-Jul-03, 03:03 PM
I knew a real rocket scientist that worked at Thiokol. He was trying to tune an early model VCR (remember them?), and his comment was "I am a rocket scientist, and I can't figure this thing out!"

ASEI
2008-Jul-03, 03:55 PM
It is definitely a poor misnomer, since aerospace engineers are engineers, not scientists. I've considered myself a rocket scientist since college - Astronautical Engineering.

PS. I suppose this goes with the general conflation of science and engineering. You have to understand a lot of science to be an engineer.

For that matter, "mad scientists" in fiction should probably be named "mad engineers" too, since it is seldom the inquiry itself which is considered mad, but the subsequent use the knowledge is put to.

Bwahahaha

Gillianren
2008-Jul-03, 04:18 PM
Has anyone on this board actually met a rocket scientist? In light of Edward Teller, I've always imagined them as slightly insane, like pyromaniacs with PhDs.

Since I believe we have several on the board, that's probably a yes.

I have in passing--my junior high school was "adopted" by JPL, so I was over there several times a year for science fairs and caroling and such.

Ilya
2008-Jul-03, 04:46 PM
I have. He worked at JPL for a while, IIRC. I knew he was a rocket scientist because of his T-shirt, which read, "Actually, I am a rocket scientist".

I saw a T-shirt like that at RPI. Worn, I assume, by an aerospace engineering major.

mugaliens
2008-Jul-03, 07:04 PM
Rocket Scientist: One who manages to accomplish by means of innovation, intellect, creativity, science and engineering what heretofore was considered by most "experts" to be impossible, or at least highly unlikely.

Brainy, lean-forward, "can-do" kind of person who actually gets the job done.

Rocket Science: Difficult problems/hurdles which require the services of a Rocket Scientist.

mugaliens
2008-Jul-03, 07:15 PM
I knew he was a rocket scientist because of his T-shirt, which read, "Actually, I am a rocket scientist".

Myself and two of my three roommates in college were aerospace engineering majors. We had t-shirts that said:

I'm not really a rocket scientist (I just count backwards)

I'm not really a rocket scientist (I just light the fuse)

I'm not really a rocket scientist (I just point to the sky)

It was sort of a joke, a take off from Slap Shot (ice hockey flick) where three brothers had the proverbial thick black horn-rimmed glasses taped in the middle.

We did it for 50's night, complete with loafers, glasses, greased hair, turned-up jeans cuffs, and our Polo-style shirts with the slogans on the back.

Oh. And a pocket. For the pocket protector. For the pens and pencils.

And the slide rule. We all had slide rules.

trinitree88
2008-Jul-03, 07:31 PM
Has anyone on this board actually met a rocket scientist? In light of Edward Teller, I've always imagined them as slightly insane, like pyromaniacs with PhDs.

Parallaxicality. In defense of Prof. Teller, with whom I share those crazy eyebrows...if he had not pushed for the H-bomb, somebody else would have, and the nuclear detente of the seventies is why the world is the way it is today...~ 62 years and waiting for a military use. pete

parallaxicality
2008-Jul-03, 09:18 PM
I don't blame him for the H-Bomb, but he was a bit eccentric, you have to admit. You know, with the whole, "Let's set off a one-megaton bomb and create a new harbour" thing.

Karl
2008-Jul-03, 09:24 PM
Grant: I think I recall a couple people at JPL with shirts like that.

I really should buy one of the latter some time...

I've got one. ;-)

Tim Thompson
2008-Jul-03, 10:48 PM
As already noted by many, the colloquial "rocket science" is really "rocket engineering". Most of the general public probably have little notion of the difference between engineering & science, and again as already noted there is a fair amount of overlap. Still I think there is at least one are where rocket science can be clearly distinguished from rocket engineering, and that is the fundamental study of the science of propulsion systems (i.e., Trottenberg, Kersten & Neumann, 2008 (http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2008NJPh...10f3012T); Andersson & Anders, 2008 (http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2008ApPhL..92v1503A); Choueiri, 2007 (http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2007APS..GECLW2001C) & etc.)

korjik
2008-Jul-04, 12:07 AM
While I may have to qualify it with 'in training',I am a rocket scientist in the exact sence of the term.

I am a graduate student at the University of Houston and the work I am doing for my PhD involves diagnostics on the plume of the VASIMR. I am working towards a PhD in space physics, tho I dont really do much space physics. It turns out that the plume of the VASIMR is fairly similar to the auroral zones of the magnetosphere.

If one wants to get picky, and not call engineers scientists, then most rocket scientists are working electric propulsion these days. Trying to figure out what is going on in the thrust plume of pretty much any type of electric propulsion is a complex task that is not fully understood.

Cougar
2008-Jul-04, 12:30 AM
It is definitely a poor misnomer, since aerospace engineers are engineers, not scientists...
It seems you touched off another California wildfire. :doh: You allow entry to the club of 'scientists' a bit too strictly, according to the consensus I've read so far. You imply "all," which is always ;) a concept to be skeptical of. "Many" or "most" might convert your statement into one that is actually defensible. I wouldn't know.

As your statement stands, you seem to forget about or discount the professors of the various engineering disciplines who are, collectively, publishing all the time, making strides into the unknown edges of their fields. Just how are you defining "science" if that ain't it?

ASEI
2008-Jul-05, 07:04 PM
Scientists and engineers with more experience than myself: In your opinion, is it too hard to switch between "science" and "engineering" career fields? Both require being comfortable with advanced math and physics.

DrRocket
2008-Jul-06, 02:09 AM
I have spent something over 24 years in the aerospace industry, mostly building rockets, and most of that in the science and technology end of the business. As far as I can tell the term "rocket scientist" was invented by someone in the popular press and has virtually no meaning in the industry.

Tim Thompson
2008-Jul-06, 05:18 AM
In your opinion, is it too hard to switch between "science" and "engineering" career fields?
No. There is a great deal of overlap, and I know a lot of people who are competent as both scientists & engineers.

Think of a pattern like this:
Mathematician: Prove that a problem can be solved.
Scientist: Solve the problem.
Engineer: Turn the solution into a practical application.

Of course that's very general and only my biased opinion. But it seems a reasonable apportioning of labor. There is no reason why any one person cannot be proficient in all 3 areas.

jja
2008-Jul-06, 05:35 AM
The Onion has an article on this very topic. The full text is only available in the print version, but (as with many Onion articles) the headline says it all:

"Suborbital Ballistic-Propulsion Engineer Not Exactly A Rocket Scientist" (http://www.theonion.com/content/node/35085)

mugaliens
2008-Jul-06, 07:16 AM
Has anyone on this board actually met a rocket scientist?


I've always imagined them as slightly insane, like pyromaniacs with PhDs.

But I'm not a rocket scientist! Really!