Today we conclude an interview with XCOR’s Mike Massee, the guy behind the videos captured at every hot fire.
Bryan Campen: Jeff [Greason] often talks about being able to read shock diamonds with the naked eye – the brain is faster than any computer in being able to read a rocket engine during a hot fire – so being in a bunker, it’s very important to have video. What set of selections do you have in terms of equipment or set-up to make it better, to make it an even faster read?
Mike Massee: Early on when we started, when I started in 2001 the entire world of broadcast video was still in standard definition. And my big goal was to move into high definition as soon as it became affordable at a reasonable rate to do so, because there’s so much more situational awareness with that clarity. So the first chance I had, I started switching out things with HD.
That made a huge difference, having big monitors with lots of pixels. Instead of a little fuzzy dot that was a valve, you could see the valve, you could see which way it was actuated, and resolution is, probably the most important thing is having more resolution. As the world starts to get into 4K, which is quad HD basically, almost four thousand pixels across on a video screen, that will bring an even more window-like clarity to the world. I like to call the video wall we have in the bunker the world’s most expensive window. We are looking right through the wall at what’s on the other side of it – except that you can zoom and look into different spots.
I’m reminded of the video screen in Back To The Future II that they have in their future home. They have this screen that they pull down in front of the window that gives them a view of whatever they want to look at. That’s how I’ve always kind of seen it, it is just a big window.
BC: Have you ever destroyed any equipment? Be honest.
MM: I’ve put a lot of equipment in the line of fire. Certainly very, very close to operating rocket engines. But since there has never been a hard start in the history of the company, I have not lost any cameras. The worst camera that got damaged – and it still worked after that – was in a really hellacious sand storm. So the worst damage came from Mojave weather and not from the rocket engines or the propulsion systems, interestingly enough. So that’s–I’ve really been very fortunate that I’ve put some very expensive equipment on the line and we’ve not had to replace any of it. Our engines, since they’re safer and reliable, I feel comfortable putting equipment out there, and I haven’t really had any problems with that. The main thing is they have to, if they’re close to the engine, they have to survive a very harsh vibratory environment because there’s a lot of vibration radiation that comes off of them. So there are some special considerations there. But, other than that, I’ve had very good luck here. That’s just a testament to the company’s propulsion technology as a whole.