Oral history of British science

Parkinson, Bob (Part 14 of 15). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Aeronautical Engineering; Space Science and Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Parkinson, Bob, 1941- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 14: Remarks on return to Marconi: odd jobs; BP's group twinned with Friedrichshafen group, to develop successors for UK designed carbon fibre dual launch structures to allow Ariane 4 to carry 2 satellites; Complications of working with Lockheed Martin due to International Traffic in Arms Regulations [ITAR]; [05:35] chairing UK Industrial Space Committee on launch vehicles; business model for BNSC on economics of reusable launch vehicles. [08:40] Story about realising Launchers only wanting him for his body and not his mind, differences after a work meeting a Royal Society and subsequent transfer to scientific programme at Stevenage and move away from launch vehicles; [13:40] Bob Graham labelling BP as a consultant, meaning he had limited managerial responsibilities. [15:40] Comments on ESA BepiColombo project: BP's first task in science programme group; original plan to visit Mercury with two satellites and a lander, based on Beagle 2; subsequent reduction in scope of project. [19:00] Remarks on: work activities, preferring engineering to managing. [20:13] Story about split with wife in 1999 after returning from International Astronautical Federation conference: initial shock; redecorating house; still in contact with wife; wife's difficulties with BP's travel heavy work-life style and daughter's disability. [25:50] Comments on BP move to science group in 2000: BepiColumbo; LISA Pathfinder mission to search for gravity waves; Mars sample return, value of small sand samples; micro-missions, using small spacecraft. [31:10] Comments on micro missions: comparatively cheap; Surrey Satellites', approach to making cheap satellites, BP links; need for high performance in interplanetary missions; utility of Soyuz Fregat as launcher; possible plan for a Mars sample return mission; micro missions compared to more elaborate projects; possibilities for using electric propulsion, reference to Dave Fearn's work at QinetiQ; [37:25] Jupiter-Europa micro mission, using solar propulsion and gravitational flyby for propulsion, reference to Steve Kemble's work; basic missions keeping costs down; similarity to SMART 1 lunar orbiter, lead by Bernard Foing; [40:40] Beagle 2 and thinking in terms of small weights; BP learning from Beagle 2 missions; Beagle failure a relief for parts of ESA with entrenched procedures; Beagle 2 failure casting all technology involved in a bad light. [46:23] Remarks on: high-tech engineering allowing few second chances if something goes wrong, leading to conservative design; reusing existing technology in new ways; gradual introduction of new technology; importance of mission designers in reorganising missions if technology fails, with example of Japanese Hayabusa mission; using older, well tested, silicon chips. Comments on feelings as he approached retirement: need to secure finances, post marriage separation; deciding to retire in 2002, reducing working hours; changes in Astrium to become parts of EADS, pension considerations; visiting professorship at Queen Mary University. [58:00] Story about becoming visiting professor at Queen Mary: BP company position c.1990 and company activities, earth observation satellites under John Stark; John Stark's career at Bristol and subsequent appointment as professor of aerospace engineering at Queen Mary University, and asking BP, Geoff Kirk of Rolls Royce and others to be visiting professors. [1:03:10] Comments on visiting professor role: authority without responsibility; organised by Royal Academy of Engineering; introducing innovations such as engineering design; lecturing system engineering and aerospace engineering to a variety of students. [1:10:55] Remarks on differences between engineering teaching today and when BP was a student: students having fewer practical experiences today; anecdote about students not maintaining their own motorbikes any more; dumbing down of education; anecdote about engineers being either intuitive engineers or people who can explain how things work, but rarely both; students today disliking arithmetic and lacking physical understanding; [1:17:50] changes in engineering drawing; students today believing computers too readily, compared to time when we people had to program themselves. [1:21:10] Comments on computing over career: impact on BP's work; computing becoming widespread in 1990s; desktop terminal in 1970s, word processors in 1980s, 1985 Xerox PARC WIMP [windows icons menu pointer] machine; [1:26:05] intuitive nature of Xerox PARC WIMP interface, comparison with Apple and Microsoft Windows computers; impact of spreadsheets and Power Point; anecdote about value of Xerox presentation software to polar platform work; [1:30:27] impact of networked systems on project planning, possibility of completely integrated systems; anecdote about number of times information flows from computer and back into computer.

  • Description

    Interview with aerospace engineer Dr Bob Parkinson.

  • Related transcripts

    Dr Bob Parkinson interviewed by Tom Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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