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You Put in Other Details

By Shamus
on Wednesday Oct 21, 2009
Filed under:


In 1957 a young boy – in an earnest attempt to help his nation enter the space race – designed a rocket ship. He drew his design in ballpoint on index cards, and sent it off to some “top scientists”. Here is his letter:


You can read a bit more about Denis Cox and the letter here.

The best part of it is the box with “You put in other details”. I would point out that engineers get these sort of requests all the time. Oh, they’re more professionally written and not so crudely drawn, but just about every engineer has had a run-in with a boss or client who mistook a desire for an idea and then asked the engineer to close the gap between the two.

I had dreams no less audacious at that age, I just never had the gumption to write the letter.

Thanks to Jay For the Link.

Comments (25)

  1. Bear says:

    “Oh, they're more professionally written and not so crudely drawn…”

    Then you have not had some of the bosses that I’ve had…

  2. Rhys Aronson says:

    I love how he decides “wait No, Not just any scientist a TOP Scientist”

    Thats the Australian way!

  3. Galenor says:

    “I love how he decides “wait No, Not just any scientist a TOP Scientist””

    Oh, you think a regular scientist can understand the concept of the patented ‘four Rolls Royce jet engines’ schematic?

    Only the best of minds can fully comprehend this.

  4. chabuhi says:

    Every day I hear “We need it to do this, so make it do that, but then after that just do whatever.”

    Heavy on concept, light on design.

    I wrote a letter to NASA when I was a kid. I still insist that they stole my idea for the Space Shuttle back in 1976 ;)

  5. Neil says:

    “…they're more professionally written and not so crudely drawn”
    You hope.

  6. Lazlo says:

    I had enough gumption to share my “designs” with family at least. I recall fairly clearly at around age 6 or 7 asking my grandfather[1] to go over my “recipe” for what I called “impervium”, a material that would be impervious to everything. The exact composition has been lost to posterity, but I do recall it contained such materials as concrete, metal, and glass (and I recall that the reason for the glass was to make it impervious to electricity)

    [1] He actually was a scientist, specifically a chemist specializing in warp sizing, which was a completely awesome job title to a young sci fi geek, even though in reality it has much less to do with space ships and much more to do with textile manufacture.

  7. Vladius says:


    I did something similar, except it was for the Navy and I gave it to my grandpa, who’s an engineer.

    It involved lots of missiles, and had tons of footnotes.

    I just noticed that this ship, inexplicably, also has guided missiles on it.

  8. Drew says:

    “Sputnik, and the threat the Soviet space program imposed on Australia was not lost on the Denis Cox, then a student at Mordialloc High School.”

    High School? Listen, I’m not trying to crap on this guy or anything, but I really expected to see that this came from like a 7 year old.

  9. Kanthalion says:

    When I was in middle school, I had all these diagrams and plans for s sort of “sling shot” system to launch vehicles in to space. Looking back, I still think it would work in theory. But dang, the cost would be off the charts, and of course I never did “put in other details.”

  10. Sho says:

    For those who don’t know, highschool in Australia starts at roughly 12-13 for Australians–we don’t have a division for middle school that I am aware of. So assuming he is somewhere around the lower limit, he isn’t especially dumb or anything. It does seem like something a 12-13 year old could come up with–some smatterings of decent knowledge partly obscured by an affection for the grandeur of top scientists, guided missiles (“air torpedoes”?), jets and anything that could be remotely affiliated with Rolls-Royce. Ah, to be young.

    In all fairness I can’t draw any better anyway. But yes, this amused me. It reminded me of that one movie, The Dish.

  11. Tesh says:

    That reminds me of Erin Hoffman’s recent Escapist article “Your Game Idea Sucks”. I’m on the other side of the fence, working as an artist, but we get it, too.

    “Just make it look cool” always makes me cringe a little, especially when you *know* that it means little to no initial direction, and many rounds of “just change this a little” or “wouldn’t it be cool if”.

  12. Ergonomic Cat says:

    My version of this is “it just seems to me….”

    It just seems to me that everything you told me you spent 3 weeks researching is, in some undefined way, not quite it. If you fix that, I’d appreciate it.

  13. MissusJ says:

    @Tesh: This reminds me of a scene in Amadeus when some bigwig tells Mozart his piece would be better with “a few less notes”. :)

  14. Haviland says:

    Man, people worry about what they wrote on the internet 10 years ago and then you see stuff like this :-)

  15. Cuthalion says:

    That’s totally something I would’ve come up with. Except I wouldn’t’ve had the guts to send it in to top scientists. :P

  16. Smileyfax says:

    I remember doodling like that in my youth: I would draw a picture of me in a rocketship, waving out the window..at an Earth that I had just blown up.

    That’s right, I wanted to blow up the entire planet when I was little. Beat that.

  17. Ergonomic Cat says:


    The actual phrase was “too many notes”

    I love that phrase and use it often.

  18. HeadHunter says:

    I used to draw spaceships and underground bases at that age.
    I recall that my bases always had an underwater entrance for subs, and a secret entrance above ground.
    And my spaceships were always modular and contained smaller scout vehicles for undersea and ground use.

    I can’t really bag on the kid for this, but I’d never have thought that anything I designed would have a practical application, so I never mailed my plans to Top Scientists.

  19. Unbeliever says:

    None of you get it.

    Top Scientist is a Champions Online character!


    Growing up, everyone had such high hopes for Topol (“Top”) Scientist. Son of Jewish couple Rocky (“Rocket”) and Madge (“Mad”) Scientist, he was naturally expected to excel in school, and go on to achieve great things.

    Alas, poor Top was dumb as a post.

    His life was perfectly boring and ordinary, until one day the Post Office delivered a letter to him by mistake. Addressed to Top Scientist, the letter contained the design schematics of an advanced space cruiser.

    The plans were worthless, of course — but when he held the letter, a tiny fragment of the writer’s DNA came into contact with his own, and Top gained the amazing power to…

    [You put in other details.]

  20. Pickly says:

    @above post:


    (so many jokes in that “character idea”)

  21. jubuttib says:

    I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. I was looking at the picture and pretty much the only thought that was on my mind was “4 JET engines in a ROCKET ship?”

  22. SatansBestBuddy says:

    It would be with the deepest irony that the kid grew up to become an engineer.

    Doesn’t really matter what field, but if he could see his letter and realize how closely related it is to what some of his bosses were asking of him… I dunno, world peace or something…

    @jubuttib: You’re not the only one…

  23. Avilan the Grey says:

    Well this was from 1957, so the lack of fully automatic laser cannons and anti-matter missiles are acceptable.

    Of course the kid might have tried to stay realistic. :)

  24. chabuhi says:

    Maybe the kid grew up to be a bona fide engineer, or astronaut even.

    Or, maybe he grew up to become Richard Heene :P

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