The problem with having chosen the title (back in the day) of “Profiles in Engineering Badassery” is that when you come across someone awesome who isn’t an engineer specifically, the title starts to sound weird and I have to add a little disclaimer that, no, they weren’t exactly an engineer, etc. Maybe I should change the title…. But fuck it.
Feynman was a physicist. He worked on the Manhattan Project where, seriously, he liked to pick the locks of safes of the other physicists and would leave notes for them as pranks. He taught at Caltech where, in order to make difficult concepts more readily understandable to students, he developed what are now called Feynman Diagrams to simplify the ideas. Those are still commonly used today. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965, helped come up with the concept of Quantum Computing and Nanotechnology, and worked to debunk poorly researched pseudoscience.
He was later involved in the Rogers Commission, the congressional body that was researching the cause of the Challenger Disaster. Rather than treat the issue from the managerial attitude that the rest of the members used, he got down and dirty into the science and process of what was going on, including showing to the world that the NASA management’s understanding of some of the relevant technologies was poor with an experiment performed on live TV. He also found that some of the engineers at NASA had raised these concerns to the management, who either ignored or white-washed it. Curiously, so did the Rogers Commission: Feynman’s initial findings were going to be omitted from the report, until he threatened to have his name removed from the report unless his part was included. It was so included in its own separate section.
Standing up to managerial incompetence on live TV is good, but standing up for the engineers who worked on the shuttle program while he was under pressure himself from the oversight on that commission on live TV? That takes balls. Maybe I’ll whip up a Feynman diagram of the kind of balls that takes….