So fellow Rackers. What do you tell non-techy people when they ask, “So What Does Rackspace DO?”. Do you break into some elevator-pitch about dedicated/internet server hosting, Fanatical Support and how we’re leading the industry “into the clouds”?.. and then you see that confused look creep across their faces, and then you start to get the slow-nod when you start throwing around terms like “SaaS” and “clouds”? My mom is like that anyway. You might as well just tell them we’re Rocket Scientists right? Well, that may not be that far off mark… check it out:
So it’s been around 4 months since I moved from Rackspace Headquarters in San Antonio TX to our Developer shop in what’s affectionately referred to by other Rackers as “Racksburg” (Blacksburg VA). So far my family and I are REALLY loving it out here. One of our HR folks did a really nice blog piece about “Summer Fun in Racksburg” that touches on all the fun, cool-weather outdoor stuff to do out here in lush, green SW VA (around 40 min south of Roanoke).
The weather is really nice, the job is super fun, all the outdoor stuff is great, but what about my quality geek-time? Those who know me know that I’m a stereotypical Rackspace, hard core Linux-geek, was the president of the XCSSA.ORG user group for like 14 years (XCSSA is an uber geeky, hardware/software/electronics, far-side-ish user group in SA). So what community related geek pursuits would I still be able to engage in here in the middle of the Appalachian mountains with all of these day-walking, “big-blue-room lovers”?
Well I knew that at least ONE of my currently active hobbies (that of High Powered Rocketry) looked like it was going to suffer, as there was no existing High Power Rocket club within three hours of Blacksburg or the New River Valley area. This combined with the fact that I’m in the process of trying to become L1/L2 TRA certified (an amateur rocketry certification that requires FAA clearance, large plots of land, people with launch support equipment, etc), did not bode well for my high flying hobby. If I didn’t do something about this, I would probably never get my L1 TRA certification (much less my L2!). Something had to be done, so I decided while still in Texas to actively turn this detractor into an opportunity!
Given there was no local HP rocket club in Blacksburg, AND that Virginia Tech (also here in Blacksburg) was the Alma Matter of none other than THE famous Rocket Boy (Homer Hickam, the rocket geek from October Sky & famous NASA Engineer), it was like the planets had aligned to create one, ginormous rocket-geek travesty! “How could this be?!” I thought. All these VT Aerospace rocket-geeks and PhDs with nowhere to go to safely launch rockets?! In the “Rocket Boy’s” backyard? Wow.. I knew that the sad-irony of these facts could not be lost on the local enthusiasts, much less the Aerospace professionals of VT! I knew that between the VT-students and other local rocket-geeks, if we built it, they would come. All I needed to do was get the ball rolling.
In order to get the ball rolling and help fill the vacuum of available rocket launches in Blacksburg, and before even accepting the Blacksburg job offer – I started reaching out to various VA rocket clubs via email, making contacts and getting names of Rocketeers in the Blacksburg/New River Valley area. One of my A-list contacts was a fellow Racker-Rocketeer, Monta Elkins, as well as another local guy by the name of Bob Schoner. Come to find out, this small team was all we needed to “get off the ground”.
After moving to Blacksburg with Rackspace, Monta, Bob and I met face to face over some fine east coast BBQ and started developing our plan for creating a Blacksburg/New River Valley Rocketry group. As it turned out, Bob here was actually a HP Rocket big wig! He had connections throughout the rocketry industry, was on the board of the TRA for VA (!!), had contacts in Washington DC, the ATFE, the FAA, local vendor contacts and more! We struck gold with Bob! We quickly put him to work schmoozing with VT Aerospace PhDs and Agg departments (for possible launch sites), and before we knew it, we had scraped together enough interest to hold our first New River Valley Rocket Launch! With all the pent up lack-of-launch frustration between us and the VT Aerospace students, the group practically launched itself! (pun intended)
The launch was a huge success! We had between 50-60 in attendance… mostly VT Aerospace and Engineering students, backed up with a few local enthusiasts, interested n00bs and a smattering of VT PhDs. The student body even moved their annual Aerospace BBQ to our launch venue. It was a huge success! NRVR.ORG was formed.
Later, through Bob’s local connections and my and Monta’s grunt-work, we turned around and did another local “Family Fun Day” rocket launch in conjunction with a local hobby store. This smaller “parking lot launch” was aimed at young families and kids. Over the following nine hours, we worked with kids and parents to build and launch over 60 cardboard saucer-style rockets, taught rocket safety and design, and again rubbed elbows with other interested VT students and PhDs (some of which who had brought their kids by to launch and talk Science/Technology shop talk). Again, another awesome Rackspace backed STEM event (Science Technology Engineering Math) that allowed a couple of Rackers to build bridges between local technology & community, while also exposing kids to what real world engineering and science is all about. Awesome stuff.
There is a deep history of Rocket/Aerospace Engineering here in Racksburg. Heck, even our own Racksburg, VP Doug Juanarena, is an old school Aerospace Engineer and x-NASA rocket scientist! With all this local rocket science heritage and opportunity in mind, and in an attempt to “keep the ball rolling,” my upcoming plans for NRVR.ORG include:
Acquire our FAA clearance within the next 30 days:
This will enable NRVR to safely begin doing true high power launches with rockets >4 lbs and expected altitudes of >1mile.
Reach out to the regional VA Boy Scouts representatives:
This will not only be a huge boon for advancing local interest in STEM related activities, but will also be a great way for Scouts to get those “Space Exploration” merit badges!
Continue with regular NRVR/VT (Rackspace sponsored?) Rocket Launches:
This will help Rackspace continue to forge local interest in us, while also helping attract extremely technical candidates from VT and other local Science & Technology circles – giving Rackspace a more engaged local STEM presence.
With Rackers involved with small, for-fun, community STEM projects like NRVR.ORG, as well as the larger, world-wide projects like the Rackspace/NASA OpenStack.org project more and more when people ask, “What does Rackspace Do?”, you really CAN answer, “Rackspace? We do Rocket Science!”.
p.s. here are a few “rocket science” jobs currently open in the “Racksburg” offices: http://jobs.rackspace.com/search?q=blacksburgCategory: Rackers Tags: Aerospace Program, Blacksburg, New River Valley Rocket Launch, nrvr.org, Rackspace, Rocket Club, Virginia Tech