Passing of the Old Guard

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Bob McCall, the talented artist who captured the space program and its promise so well for so many years.  Art can provide a window to the future that mere words can never achieve.  We will miss him.

Closer to home, we are sorry to hear of the passing of Aaron Cohen.  He had been in declining health in recent weeks so the news was not a surprise, but the loss is still acute.  Dr. Cohen was an unsung hero in the pantheon of those who propelled America into space.

Not only was Aaron Cohen a brilliant engineer (the highest compliment that anyone at NASA can achieve) but he was a tremendous leader, a superb organizer, and a true gentleman.  In contrast to many of his peers, I never heard him lose his temper, raise his voice, or berate anybody.  Not that he was without passion; indeed I was in his presence for many moments when it was clear that he had strong and emotional feelings on some subject or another; it is just he never lost the control that a true gentleman always maintains.  We would do well to study his example.

After he retired from NASA, Dr. Cohen returned to his beloved Texas A&M University to teach new generations of engineers and leaders.  His command of the systems engineering discipline was unparalleled and one can only hope those students realized what a tremendous master they had the glory to study under.

I will leave you with only one of the many insights that Aaron shared with me.  As a senior leader during the shuttle program development in the 1970’s he watched the difficulties that plagued development of the space shuttle main engines.  As he said:  “I wished that somebody could just invent an anti-gravity machine so that we would not have to rely on rocket engines anymore.  Then I realized that if someone were able to invent such a device, it would no doubt have braze welds and triple-E (electronic) parts.  And all the troubles we were having with all the other parts of the shuttle would be present in that machine, too.”

A brilliant and gentle man.  We will miss him.