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Meet: Chuck Cornelison

Chuck Cornelison

Facility Manager
NASA Ames Research Center's Ballistic Range Complex

My Journal

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 myself.

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 fourteen years.

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 NASA Ames.

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.

Future Goals
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.
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