On February 201962, John Glenn, Jr., makes a three-orbit flight and becomes the first American in orbit. My entire class of sophomores enrolled in Basic Design is listening with rapt attention to the radio, broadcasting the exchanges being made by John Glenn and the NASA control room during his four-hour, momentous achievement. We also manage to hear the radio announce his successful re-entry into the atmosphere, the “splashdown,” and the retrieval from the ocean.
A subdued classroom expressed their disappointment afterward in not being able to participate in designing for future space exploration and wondered what they could possibly contribute when they graduated with a degree in industrial design. Little did anyone know that in 1968, Raymond Loewy and his design staff would participate actively with NASA working on Skylab and the earth-orbiter shuttle’s early conceptual design, and Loewy gets credit for insisting that Skylab have a window to look out of to reassure the astronauts that they were indeed in space.
The “seed” for a student exercise in space exploration had been set in my mind from the John Glenn broadcast and the students’ disappointment in not being able to participate in space problems. And so in the following year, and at the beginning of the spring semester, I announced to the class that we were going to design a space capsule but instead of using an astronaut for our precious cargo, we would use an uncooked chicken egg.
Knowing that students were the best source for formulating unique and original design problems or exercises, I proposed that we analyze the problems NASA faced in launching a human being in space. The entire class participated in this discussion and three problems emerged: 1 overcoming the initial shock forces as the capsule was catapulted from earth; 2 protection from the intense heat upon re-entry; and 3 protection from water after it landed in the ocean.
Budd Steinhilber, FIDSA, recalls his time as a summer intern at the Raymond Loewy office in New York City. This clip is excerpted from an interview with Bret H. Smith, IDSA in 1995. Copyright 1995 and 2003, Bret H. Smith. All rights reserved.