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Wernher von Braun

Let me tell you about an experience we had at the NASA Test Station in Southern Mississippi in 1965. I was with GE as one of the first seven managers working on the design of the station. We were based in Huntsville, Ala., where we were briefly introduced to Dr. Wernher von Braun [who directed development of the Saturn V rocket that first took men to the moon in 1969]. We spent most of our time, however, in Mississippi.

   At that time, the station was all swamp and jungle. One day we were told that von Braun was to be on hand for the driving of the first steel piling for the lock system on the canal where the large rocket sections would be brought in, by barge, from New Orleans. The hole for building the lock was monstrous—300 x 200 x 100 feet deep. It naturally had to have numerous DE-watering rings around the sloping walls.  

  All seven of us GE managers were on one side with von Braun and his staff on the other side along with a large contingent of press. The pile driving crew were at the bottom and had the first 40-foot section of 12 inch heavy-walled steel H-piling in place at the proper slant angle.

   At a signal, the heavy weight came down and slammed into the piling. To everyone’s horror, the piling slid into the muck and completely disappeared. There was a long silence as everyone wondered what von Braun would say or do.

   The piling crew didn’t seem perturbed at all. They used their special grappling hooks and located the piling and dragged it back to the surface. Another 40-foot section was welded on and the process repeated. Most of the required hundreds of piling sections ended up to be 120 feet or longer in length to get the required resistance.

   Gulfport, Mississippi

Slide Rule

   Would you like another slide rule story?

   After making the transition to a desktop calculator and later to a hand-held unit, I used my slide rule as a back scratcher for many years. One day, I remembered a nice piece of birch wood left over from a project at home and thought, why not mount it and hang it in my office. It was quite a conversation piece for visitors.

   It now hangs near my desk at home. The cartoon [laminated on the wood] says, “He spotted a slide rule like the one he used in college at a garage sale…selling for twenty-five cents.”

   It’s worth a lot more to me.

   Lincoln, Nebraska

Ethanol Questions

The article “Ethanol Vehicle Challenge” in the Spring 2000 edition of Contacts/Nebraska Blueprint raised some questions for me, especially since the government recently mandated more extensive use of ethanol.

   1. What is the current status of the UN ethanol vehicle program?
   2. The article stated “Ethanol promotes corrosion and degradation of many materials in the conventional fuel system.” At what percentage of ethanol to gasoline do I have to be worried about my cars, a 1988 Dodge Daytona and a 1998 Dodge Intrepid? The test was performed with 85 percent ethanol and it was a problem. Is 15% ethanol a potential corrosion and degradation problem?

   Thank you for your help.

   Denver, Colorado

Brent Wilson, assistant professor of research, mechanical engineering, responds:

   The ethanol vehicle competition took place starting in 1998 and continued through the year 2000. Currently the cars are funded by the state ethanol board to be used as promotional vehicles for the advancement of ethanol legislation. We have recently participated in the 2001 Tour del Sol and the 2002 Hot Rod Power Tour and are also in the process of building an ethanol-powered Corvette that will be used to drag race on ethanol.

   The amount of ethanol currently used in conventional gasoline does not present a corrosion problem for your vehicles. Unlike gasoline, ethanol acts as an electrolyte which can cause a problem in a galvanic corrosion situation. This means that for our situation running 85% ethanol, anodic materials such as aluminum need to be isolated or replaced so that they don’t corrode in this environment. This is easily accomplished by using a stainless steel material in place of the aluminum (or other anodic material) component. By itself, ethanol is not a corrosive liquid.

   For more information, go to www.engr.unl.edu/~ethanol/

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