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disinterprerto! by Allan K. '17

a centennial, a harry potter dream, a made-up spell, a corny metaphor

I will admit: I’ve been in a bit of a rut.

Don’t get me wrong. Life as an AeroAstro is amazing in a lot of respects. 9AM classes for Unified Engineering mean my afternoons are very free. Since I’m also living at East Campus now, and not Next House, I’m spending a lot more time on my hall and making new friends with hallmates. I no longer tool alone (like I did for most of last year) and I feel like I’ve found an amazing group of friends who understand me. I’m continuing on with the Design/Build/Fly team, training all our delightful new members and gearing up to fly (and win!) in Tucson next April. And late last week, the entire AeroAstro department canceled classes on Thursday and Friday for the AeroAstro Centennial Symposium, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the MIT AeroAstro department. I got to meet astronauts, hear Elon Musk speak live, and get expert perspectives firsthand from industry and academic professionals about the future of commercial aviation, spaceflight, autonomy in aerospace, and aerospace education.

There was a moment which stuck in my mind. I was fortunately well-positioned to get a picture.

That’s Michael Collins, speaking from the audience during the Q/A session of the astronaut panel on Friday morning. Picture the scene: 11-odd current and past astronauts, men (and one woman) who fixed the Hubble or deployed Chandra or lived on the International Space Station, sitting on stage. They’d spent the past hour reminiscing about MIT, sitting across from each other in Unified Engineering or working in each others’ labs or writing their theses. Here was this elite group of people, modern heroes of engineering, and a crowd of aerospace students looking up to them from the audience. Then Michael Collins stands up, the so-called “third astronaut” of Apollo 11. As xkcd puts it, the loneliest human:

Here was this man, the first man to orbit the moon, a man who’s been the farthest away from Earth humanity has ever been, and he stands up from the audience to say a few words applauding the teamwork, spirit, and inspiration of the astronauts on stage. I don’t remember exactly what he said (there will be videos online later), but I remember how it made me feel. It was a feeling of witnessing something of great import, a convergence of everything that astronautics represents and strives for. Engineers, astronauts, scientists of the present, past, and future–all in one room, all full of overflowing respect and humble awe for each other.

Over the weekend, however, I got a little stuck–for a variety of reasons. I was feeling unmotivated with schoolwork, frustrated with how I was handling Unified, and generally a little worn around the edges.

So I gave myself a break. I submitted a job application, and then I wrote a play for my playwriting class about five people who get trapped in an elevator. I cleaned my room, wiped down the floors, laid down a rug, and took a nap.

While I napped, I dreamed that I was Harry Potter, in the labyrinth at the end of Goblet of Fire. I came across a monster–one of those zombies from Half-Life–raised my wand in defense…and got stuck.

Fortunately, Ron Weasley was by my side, and he told me something that spurred me into action. I found the spell “disinterprerto!” coming out of my mouth, and zapped the zombie, which promptly morphed into…Gollum. Huh.

“Again,” said Ron. So I did it again, and Gollum turned into a human in a skin-colored morphsuit. One more time–and it disappeared. And I woke up.

It struck me that my dream represented a good approach to MIT. When you’re stuck, there are friends there to help you deal with your problems. And when there are problems you don’t know how to deal with, you can break them down into simpler and less threatening-looking problems, until before you know it, it’s gone and you’re moving forward through the maze. You’re not really sure where you’re going, but you’re moving forward–and you’re with friends.

So here I am, recharged with inspiration, still feeling a little worn, but moving forward. The semester is, unbelievably, half-over, zooming by in a way that it didn’t seem to do last year. But I’m moving forward. And I’m with friends.