Houston, we have fins.

To those of you who celebrate this day, I say to you Merry Christmas. To those of you who do not, I say again, Merry Christmas. It is wholly within my rights to say so, and so I do. To those of you who disagree, well, I say again, Merry Christmas.

At long last I bring you … rocket fins! Examine, if you will, the following design. I have colored the body of the rocket red and, for clarity, I have assigned the color blue to the fins and have eliminated fins that would be seen only edge-on.

Figure 1

Wonderful, n’est-ce pa? No? Why, what could possibly be wrong? It looks as if it could virtually fly off the page. I would not dare touch those exhaust gases if I were you; you might burn yourself.

It does not look very rocket-ish, you say? Looks more like a torpedo over a big blue X? What is really wrong with this design? Too many fins, you say? Perhaps, but I am not certain yet that you have convinced me. For now, I shall concede the point and remove some fins.

There! That’s much, much better, yes? No? You would rather have all the fins on one end of the rocket? You are very hard to please, indeed. I rather like this one. As you will, I shall change it, but I shall return to this configuration on another occasion.

Now we are getting somewhere! The completed design appears in Figure 3. Let’s get busy with the construction. We’ll need a paper tube for the body and some balsa wood for the fins. What’s that you say? These fins are not to your liking, either? The wrong end of the rocket? But it looks so, so, angelic, does it not? Or perhaps like a referee of American football declaring a touchdown. If I must, I shall modify the design again, but this is becoming so tiresome. Why cannot we just call it “done” and move on? I want to see it fly!

Figure 4

Here we are at last, a more balanced approach to the application of fins to a rocket. The lesson is concluded, and you may now begin the assembly. Did I hear you say you would not dare go near the launch pad of such a rocket without a death wish? Appearances are not everything, I suppose, but does it not look something like an airplane? Airplanes fly quite well, or at least some of them do. A rocket plane, that’s what we have here. But still, you are not satisfied.

Figure 5

Now I am sure we finally have something you like, and you are ready to build it. It has all the fins on one end, none on the top, and they slant away in such a way as to make it look very fast. Everything is in its place, and everything that has needed to be done has been done. Are you absolutely certain, my friends? Have you calculated and verified all the moments and centroids, has your design been reviewed by your peers, have you analyzed the risks involved, and has your design process been evaluated by qualified quality assurance representatives? Alas, those are such ugly terms, and I promise not to insult you with such ugliness again.  Next time, we shall look deeper into this design and see if there are ways to ensure the safety and success of its flight without resorting to supercomputer simulations and other such silliness, and perhaps along the way we shall discover why the first four designs were totally unsuitable.

I think tomorrow I shall allow one of my afore-mentioned comrades to participate in this forum. For now, I bid you adieu and a Merry Christmas to one and all.

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