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Meet: David Bogdanoff

Senior Research Scientist
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

Who I Am
I do experimental and computational aeronautics and space research. Here at NASA Ames several of our projects involve work with our ballistic ranges. In the ballistic ranges, one of the jobs we do is to shoot models out of guns to see how they fly. For example, at the moment, we are shooting models of Mars landing capsules out of our guns to see if they will be flying smoothly when the parachute opens. If the model is tumbling end-over-end when the parachute opens, the parachute could be ripped off and the capsule would crash on Mars, probably destroying it.

Another of our jobs was for the space station which is now being built in orbit. On the space station, the outer shell has a shield to protect the astronauts against flying space debris and meteors. We have tested the space station shield here by shooting simulated space debris at it to see what is the best shield construction to protect the astronauts as much as possible.

Another type or ballistic range work is to shoot simulated meteors into blocks of rock and sand to try to understand how meteor craters are made on the moon, Mars, the Earth and other planets. Our meteors are very small, only about 1/8" or 1/4" across. Our guns aren't big enough to shoot large meteors.

I also work with very high speed wind tunnels, called shock tubes and shock tunnels. We have one tunnel about 3 feet wide which can run as fast as 7,500 miles per hour. We did tests on possible jet engines for future airplanes which could fly up to 7,000 miles per hour. The time that we can run this very fast wind tunnel is very short, only about 3/1000 of one second. But, we have instruments that can measure pressures and forces more than one million times a second, so that we can get information even though the tunnel only runs for a short time.

We also have a tunnel about 4 inches wide which can run as fast as 90,000 miles per hour. This is about the speed that the NASA Galileo probe was going when it hit Jupiter's atmosphere in 1994. Since Jupiter is much bigger than the Earth, its gravity is very strong and any probe to Jupiter will be going about this fast when it enters Jupiter's atmosphere. The Jupiter atmosphere around the Galileo probe becomes very hot and glows very brightly, because the probe acts like a meteor entering Jupiter's atmosphere. We did tests (using Jupiter atmosphere) to see if the glow was bright enough to make the surface of the probe start melting away. It turned out that the surface of the probe does start melting away, but there is enough material left for the probe to safely slow down and open its parachute.

My Career Path
We have lots of engineers in my family. My grandfather and my uncle were mechanical engineers and my father was an aeronautics and space engineer. Also, I have always liked to watch air or water moving. I used to be able to watch clouds or waves on the beach for hours. When I first went to university (in Montreal, Quebec, Canada), I was studying geology. After two years, I decided to change to mechanical engineering, so then I was following the family tradition. (The university in Montreal didn't have an aeronautics department.) I went to graduate school at Princeton University in the Aeronautics and Space department. After that, I worked for 2 years at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and two years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Then, I worked for the UCLA and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles for four years. Next, I worked for 12 years in the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department of the University of Washington in Seattle. Finally, I came to the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, where I've been working for nearly 13 years.

Why I like my Job
Positive aspects of my career choice include working on very interesting problems, working with people from many coutries and seeing some of the results of your work being used in aeronautics and space projects, such as Mars probes and the space station. Also, you get to work with exciting, interesting pieces of equipment, such as the guns used to launch models, very high speed wind tunnels and lasers. Negative aspects include a lot of paper work and regulations which must be followed when you work for the government. Sometimes, you have to wait a long time - like 10 years - to see the results of your work being used. Also, sometimes, projects are cancelled because of tight budgets and your work doesn't get finished.

As a Child
As I said before, I always liked to watch air and water moving, like clouds and waves and snow drifting. (When I was young, I lived in Canada, where there was about 5 months of winter.) I liked to read science fiction - from Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" to stories published in the "Galaxy" science fiction magazine. I also watched early science fiction television programs such as "Captain Video." I flew "JETEX" model rockets with some of my friends. These were rockets that were available for kids in the 1950's.

I would advise a young person interesting in aeronautics or space to be sure to check out the positive and negative aspects of this type of career - for sure, it's not for everybody. If you really want to continue in aeronautics or space, you certainly need to get a good education, go to good schools and universities. If you can manage it, it's good to get summer or part-time work in aerospace industries or laboratories.

Early Influences
My grandfather, uncle and father were all mechanical or aerospace engineers, so I always had that example in the family. I wasn't really pushed to become an engineer, but it sort of followed naturally from the family tradition. My first technical summer job was on a ballistic range near Quebec City, north of Montreal in 1960. I was kind of inspired by the folks that I worked with on that job. Lots of them were French Canadians. (Before that, for summer work, I dug ditches 50 hours a week for $1.00 an hour.)

Future Plans
I would like to continue working in aerospace engineering, since there are so many exciting projects under way, such as the space station, more probes to Mars and Jupiter. Later on, we might try to investigate the possible oceans under the ice on Jupiter's moon Europa. It is also very important for an older researcher like myself (59 years old) to work at mentoring younger folks so we can pass on the skills that we have to future generations.

To have a change of pace from work, my wife and I play in several folk music groups. We play Latin American music in one group ("Grupo Germinal") and we play for folk dances in another group ("Vecernica").


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