I recently completed a one-week white water rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, an experience that was both exhilarating and terrifying. It wasn’t just the Class IV rapids that held my intense interest, though. It also was my fellow rafters -- 16 of them, almost all of whom knew one another. Unlike most of these expeditions, this one was all amateur, meaning there were no professional guides from some outfitter, just rented rafts, huge coolers, a camp stove and, yes, a port-a-potty. You brought your own tent and sleeping bag.
I was especially impressed by three fellows -- a lawyer, an astrophysicist (or “chaos scientist,” as he called himself) and a senior pilot with United Airlines. The three were very capable river guides who could maneuver the 16-foot rafts down roaring rapids with great skill; all three were also associated with a consulting firm that contracts with NASA to help develop something I only vaguely knew of called NextGen, a joint multiagency and industry initiative to overhaul the nation’s air traffic control system.