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Meet: Grant Palmer

Grant Palmer

Computational Fluid Dynamics Engineer
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

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Who I Am
I work in a field known as computational fluid dynamics or CFD for short. When a spacecraft such as the Space Shuttle returns to Earth from space, the friction caused by the air rushing past the surface of the vehicle causes it to heat up. What I do is to write computer programs that predict how hot the vehicle surface will get. This is important because without CFD you would have to guess how hot the vehicle would get. If your guess is wrong, the vehicle would either be heavier than it had to be or it would get damaged when it returned to Earth.

CFD involves a lot of computer programming. You also have to know physics and chemistry. It is exciting because what you do has a big impact on spacecraft design and you can actually see vehicles you have helped design being built and flown.

My Career Path
I've always been interested in airplanes and space. When I was in high school, I wanted to be an airline pilot. But because I sometimes get airsick, I figured that was probably not a good career choice. I went to college and got a degree in Mechanical Engineering which is a good general-purpose major. I got a summer job at NASA-Ames Research Center when I was a junior, and when I graduated I was offered a full time job. I had several choices of what I could do at NASA and I chose CFD.

What I Like About My Job
One of the positive aspects of my job is that people working for NASA have a lot of freedom to be creative and to do things that have never been done before. When you work for a company, the company is primarily concerned with making money, and the things you are allowed to work on are limited by that.

On the negative side, you don't get many perks working for the government. You don't get fancy Christmas parties or stock options.

When I Was a Child
I built model rockets, the kind that you can launch into the air. I also took some advanced math classes like calculus in high school. We had one of the early Apple computers at home that I liked to play with.

I would tell all young people, not just those interested in pursuing a science career, to keep your options open by taking math and science courses in junior high school and high school. When I was in high school I wanted to be an airline pilot. If I had said, "airline pilots don't need math, why should I take it" I would not have been able to work for NASA today.

My Future Plans
I would like to keep doing what I am doing, discover some new things, and do things that no one has done before.

I am married with a two year old son, Jackson. I have a little mutt dog named Bailey who I bring to work with me about once a week. Bailey sits in my office or sometimes on my lap while I work. I am a swimmer. I usually swim in a pool but in May I swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco as part of a race.

Learn More from My Chats


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