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FROM THE TAILGATE
Sage advice from the trenches
By Ron Jones
Mission Control Is Our Business
It’s not rocket science, it’s building science, and there’s a big difference.


Consider the ongoing success of the International Space Station, ISS for short. It’s no small scientific marvel. Scheduled for completion in mid-2012, the on-orbit portion of construction of the ISS began in 1998, and the station is expected to remain in operation until at least 2020—and possibly as far into the future as 2028.


The objective of the station, according to NASA, is to “develop and test technologies for exploration spacecraft systems, develop techniques to maintain crew health and performance on missions beyond low Earth orbit, and gain operational experience that can be applied to exploration missions.”


The challenges and variables that the scientists and engineers had to deal with just to get this large idea off the ground boggle the average mind, and the price of even the smallest error in calculation or execution could instantly bring about catastrophic results.


In addition to being self contained for extended periods of time, this remarkably fragile island in the sky must also provide all conceivable necessities of life for its occupants while negotiating a stream of potentially dangerous natural objects and man made debris, any number of which could smash and destroy it.


Back on terra firma, we deal with a fairly complex set of environmental impacts every time we design and build a dwelling. We need to account for factors such as geology, hydrology, geography, topography and even sociology. Additionally, we must account for location specific climate conditions (a moving target at best), ever evolving building products, systems and technologies, economic fluctuations and the demands of sometimes fickle consumers.


Still, the basics are fairly constant for those of us who build back on Earth. We need to understand and control the rate and direction of flow for air, heat and moisture. If we accomplish these, we are most of the way home. Sure, we have plenty of variables of our own to plug into the formula, and we can only do so much to insure proper operation of the buildings we deliver, but all in all, it’s a pretty straightforward proposition. We are tasked with keeping our crew members dry, comfortable, and secure. Along the way we are expected to come in on budget while delivering value, efficiency, quality, function, beauty and durability.


Come to think of it, this business we’re in could be described as a blend of art and science. And when it’s done well, even a rocket scientist would be proud to have his or her name on it.


08.2011
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