Johnson Space Center
Iowa State University, B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, 1995
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to work for NASA. Thanks to a quality education at Iowa State University, and my involvement in the Iowa Space Grant Consortium (ISGC), my dream became reality. Today, I serve NASA as the Deputy Branch Chief for Mission Operations of the Space Medicine Operations Directorate at Johnson Space Center (JSC).
At Iowa State University in the early 1990s, I was a young engineer in training with aspirations set on a career in aerospace. However, at the time, the market was tough for aerospace, and I chose to major in mechanical engineering to have a better chance at employment once I finished school. I focused my extracurricular activities on space-related groups and joined the Iowa State University chapter of the National Space Society (NSS) and the local chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in the hopes of making the right contacts and giving me an advantage for employment post-graduation. Additionally, I enrolled in some aerospace electives including spacecraft design.
It was through my involvement with the faculty in the aerospace department where I learned about the Iowa Space Grant Consortium and the opportunities it presented. I was fortunate to participate in two large projects the ISGC sponsored: HABET and IJEMS. I served as a project manager for the 7th High Altitude Balloon Experiment in Technology, or HABET-7. The goal of this project was to prove to the scientific community that we, as students, could conduct research applicable to atmospheric science, agriculture, and even animal ecology cheaper than others could. We employed a 10-foot weather balloon, an early Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tracking system (before GPS technology was commercially used, and before anyone had cellphones that could fit in your pocket), atmospheric sensors, and cameras. The balloon floated as high as 100,000 feet and, in addition to the science data, we obtained a photo showing the curvature of the Earth and the edge of space. The day we flew, I had to fill in on the chase team, as one of the team members was ill. I will never forget that day; it was one of the most exciting days tracking and retrieving the balloon and payload, and it reminds me that no matter what position you hold on a team, the most important one is to have each other’s backs. It was also such a great feeling of accomplishment; we put something together and achieved a goal as a team. I keep the HABET-7 photo in my office as a reminder of this incredible adventure.
The other experience I was lucky enough to participate in was the Iowa Joint Experiment in Microgravity Solidification, or IJEMS. This was a joint engineering project between ISU and the University of Iowa. The ISU team was responsible for the design and manufacturing of the spacecraft experiment to fly on the Shuttle, and the University of Iowa team was responsible to study the physical properties and results of melting and re-solidifying different compositions of a metal alloy in microgravity. The ISGC enabled us as students to get unique hands-on design and manufacturing experience building equipment to fly into space. This project gave us the opportunity to become intimate with space design requirements through having to implement them in real life. Having worked in the engineering department at NASA JSC, I can say that this experience set us apart from others when applying for space-related jobs. The ISGC gifted us by providing this valuable experience to carry in our tool belts as we set out as graduates.
Lastly, the ISGC provided me an opportunity to use my mechanical engineering skills and apply them over the summer by awarding me a Summer Undergraduate Research Scholarship (SURS) when I was a senior at ISU. I studied the potential to use an internal combustion engine in a Martian atmosphere for a rover. Dianne Linne from NASA Lewis Research Center armed me with three different NASA technical memorandums and allowed me use of a computer program for complex chemical equilibrium compositions in order to prove out my theory that this could be achieved effectively. Unfortunately, the budget was reduced and my scholarship only afforded me a theoretical paper study, in comparison to my original goals of collecting test data by running a small internal combustion engine in a simulated Martian environment and analyzing performance data. This experience taught me how to be adaptable and resourceful in utilizing what is available.
Over my career at JSC, the past 20 years, I have been able to grow into more and more challenging jobs, and I do believe that part of my success has been directly attributable to the education and experiences I received through the ISGC opportunities. I started at JSC in the Flight Operations Directorate teaching flight controllers and astronauts about the various US systems on the International Space Station (ISS), and then I travelled to Russia to help them train on the Russian systems of the ISS. This experience enabled me to be a valuable asset to the Engineering Directorate, and that in turn prepared me for employment in the ISS Program Vehicle Office. Later, I obtained a MBA enabling me to take on management roles in the Engineering Directorate and more recently in the Human Health Performance Directorate. Each experience has been valuable and has set me up for my next assignment, and I am forever thankful for the opportunities provided by ISGC. These experiences enabled me for a career with NASA, and they are some of my most cherished moments from my college education.
NASA Resources Provided:
- NASA Technical Memorandum 105897; Performance and Heat Transfer Characteristics of a Carbon Monoxide/Oxygen Rocket Engine; Dianne L. Linne; Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio, February 1993
- NASA Technical Memorandum 104473; Carbon Monoxide and Oxygen Combustion Experiments: A Demonstration of Mars In Situ Propellants; Dianne L. Linne; Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio, June 1991.
- NASA Technical Memorandum 105262; A Compilation of Lunar and Mars Exploration Strategies Utilizing Indigenous Propellants; Dianne L. Linne and Michael L. Meyer; Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio, January 1992.
- NASA SP-273; Computer Program for Calculation of Complex Chemical Equilibrium Compositions, Rocket Performance, Incident and Reflected Shocks, and Chapman-Jouguet Detonations; Sanford Gordon and Bonnie J. McBride; NASA Lewis Research Center, 1971.