Meet: Chuck Cornelison
NASA Ames Research Center's Ballistic Range Complex
Who I am
I am the Facility Manager for the Ballistic Range Complex at Ames. Within
this research and development complex there are currently two operational
test facilities. One of the Facilities is called the Hypervelocity Free-Flight
Aerodynamic Facility (HFFAF). It is an aeroballistic range and is used
primarily for determining the aerodynamic properties of very high-speed
projectiles of various shapes and sizes. Aerodynamicists and engineers
use this information to design spacecraft that can safely enter a planet's
atmosphere. The other facility is called the Ames Vertical Gun Range (AVGR),
and it is used to simulate what happens when a meteor, comet or asteroid
impacts a celestial body such as a planet or moon. Folks such as planetary
geologists and geophysicists use the information gathered from these tests
to better understand how craters form, climates can be altered, and how
life forms can be driven to extinction by such events.
I manage the operations of both of these facilities,
the testing and maintenance and so on. I work with a crew of highly skilled
technicians who run the facilities for researcher's tests. Right now much
of our work is focused on entry vehicles. These vehicles could be used
to send a rover and various science instruments to another planet, like
Mars. We do tests to make sure the entry vehicles will not tumble out
of control when they enter the planet's atmosphere. I will describe how
the facilities work shortly, but first let me tell you a little bit about
My Career Path
I remember when I was about six or seven, I watched in awe as Apollo 11
landed on the moon, and Neil Armstrong took those very first steps. I
watched all of the other Apollo missions and a few years later the Viking
Mission to Mars. I can remember sitting in my grandparent's living room,
glued to the TV waiting for those first pictures from the surface of Mars.
I also remember watching the Skylab missions, Apollo/Soyuz, etc. It was
quite an exciting time and needless to say I was really fascinated by
the Space program and NASA. During that time I got to visit Kennedy Space
Center, and I thought it might be cool to work at NASA someday.
When I went off to college at the University of California
at Davis, I started out in engineering and changed my mind several times
and kept coming back to mechanical engineering. In the process of finding
a post college job I was interviewed by Steve Robinson, another University
of California at Davis graduate who was then working at NASA Ames Research
Center, and is now an astronaut. This was the most interesting engineering
opportunity I was offered and so I came to work here. I have been here
Why I like my Job
One of the best things about my job is the people that I work with. These
folks are very good, down-to-earth, dedicated people. Also my job is very
unique. There are always new programs to work on, so it is never boring.
My job has flexible hours. I have many responsibilities such as scheduling
testing and maintenance activities, managing the operational budget, writing
reports, designing components and developing techniques to improve facility
performance, assisting with testing operations, troubleshooting instrumentation
problems, and trying to maintain good staff morale. Sometimes politics
and occasional trendy activities, which take up time I'd rather spend
doing research, can be a little bit frustrating. Most of the time I enjoy
what I do, and I consider myself very fortunate to be working here at
As a Child
I liked to build things; I spent my summers with my grandparents, building
go-carts and tree forts. I loved Legos, drawing, music, and playing baseball.
I was in Boy Scouts and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. I admired my
grandfather. He was a very nice person, honest and well liked by everybody.
I aspired to be like him. My father was English and Native American, Cherokee.
My mother is Syrian. I find that Native American spiritual beliefs and
views as they pertain to the environment strike a chord with me.
I would say that it's a good idea to get a balanced education. Science
is important, but so are the other subjects (such as art, literature,
history, etc.) when navigating through life. People skills are very important
too. As you journey through life hopefully you will become aware that
a balanced education and lifestyle will give you the best opportunities
for good health, happiness and career success.
I want to continue doing what I am doing because there are many interesting
programs in the works right now. I believe that Mars exploration will
be the next Apollo-like program. So, this time instead of watching it
on television I want to be a part of it.
I play guitar in a band here at Ames. We get together and practice once
or twice a week at lunch hour, and we perform at a few parties during
the year. My wife (Heidi) is a 5th grade teacher at an elementary school
in Cupertino. I have a nine-year-old son named Kevin from a previous marriage,
and we have a cat named Sweetheart. I enjoy exercise, outdoor activities,
music and family time.