Interview #1 (2020)

Name of person interviewed: Ken Mason

Profession: Retired propulsion/test engineer / technical consultant

As we conducted this interview we began to talk about ablative materials, our engine design and we learned a lot about the specifics of plumbing, how to get cheap parts for the engine as that’s crucially important and the details of our engine were to be discussed. Also we spoke about how to clean components that will come in contact with Liquid Oxygen. The work environment for him was a lot of time on the test stand, machine shop and the design room in no particular order. He spoke about everything from machining cavitation venturis, to lox proofing propellant valves and all sorts of things related to both ablative engines and regen engines. It was just like I expected.

I spent this interview trying to get to know him, getting some feedback on our engine and material selection and learning about some of the works done in California in the 1980s. Unfortunately, it seems like a whole generation of liquid rocket engineers has oddly disappeared.

It's actually really bizarre, because with a wind down of the Cold War and most of the defense programs and the aerospace programs at NASA and other organizations there wasn’t a whole lot for propulsion engineers to do, so the job died for a while at least partially. This was surmised from the shutting down of various test sites in California, which was the main state in which these engineers would locate because that’s where all the exciting stuff was and still is happening and also the just sheer lack of university support for the field until very very recently. The focus has shifted over the past 20 years to more solid fueled rockets and less liquid fueled rockets, leading students including myself to believe them overly dangerous and more so than their solid counterparts. That’s only partially true, but there’s a whole lot more care being put into working with these materials and these engines so the safety is most certainly more properly taken care of.

It was certainly exciting for me, just getting feedback from somebody who spent literally 50 years building, flying and testing these rocket engines. It’s amazing the things he’s done and built : check out I need to learn more right now about fluid dynamics and thermodynamics. Aside from the manufacturing and logistical issues I now have to sift through, fluid dynamics is certainly very important.