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Meet: Jeff Samuels

Aerospace Engineer
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

My Job
I am an Aerospace Enginner at NASA's Ames Research Center. Like many engineering and technical people, I have worked in several areas over the course of my career. When I first started at NASA, I worked as part of a team doing aircraft design studies. These design studies are called "preliminary" because they are the earliest part of the design process. We were studying new fighter aircraft concepts and were trying to determine the right airplane size and shape. We also looked at how different kinds of engines affected the aircraft.

After that, I went to work in the wind tunnels as a research engineer. Check out http://aocentral.arc.nasa.gov/ for more about wind tunnels. A fellow researcher described this research job really well, so check out Fanny Zuniga's bio in "Aero Online." My job was to make sure we started a test with a good idea of what we wanted to learn and a plan or schedule for fitting all of the work into the time we had the tunnel for. Planning can take a few months or more for a big complicated test. During a test, which might last a few weeks or a few months at the longest, I help to juggle all of the different things we had planned with the practical realities of real-world testing. This is something like building a picture puzzle while other people change the shape of the pieces. It is exciting and challenging, and rather intense. It's like planning and practicing for a play and then there you are, on stage, trying to make it all go the way you practiced. Some of my wind tunnel tests were long and complicated, involving dozens of people. Some of my tests involved large (50%-scale) models of fighter aicraft in one of the world's largest wind tunnels. My most recent test was a smaller model (4%-scale) of a new supersonic airliner being studied by NASA and industry.

Right now, I have a new, temporary job assignment. I am involved in helping to pick a new contractor to operate our wind tunnels. Once again I am part of a team of people with diffent backgrounds, all working together to do the best job possible. I also get to spend some of my time helping educational projects like "Aero Online."

Career Likes And Dislikes
I have always enjoyed the fun and challenge of working with other people. I like the fact that in my field, you rarely work alone. I think people do their best work in teams. I like working at NASA because there are always interesting tests going on and aircraft models to check out. What I like the least is that sometimes the work is more focused than I would like. I am not as oriented towards becoming a specialist as some folks are; I'd rather have a broader range of experiences and knowledge. For the most part though, I have had enough variety in my job to keep me happy.

How Did I Get Here?
I grew up liking airplanes, spacecraft, and space science (most any science, really). I especially like astronomy. I built and launched model rockets and model airplanes which somehow had fairly short life expectancies. I remember reading almost all of the Tom Swift books, and my favorite cartoon was "Johnny Quest."

I remember my 6th grade teacher introduced me to science, and my love of science began. I really liked studying the planets. Of course Apollo, Skylab, and space probes like Pioneer, Voyager, and Viking had a big influence on me, too. I was, and still am, quite excited to see pictures from space of things I've never seen before. We have learned so much since I was a kid. Back then, we'd never been on Mars, landed on the Moon, seen Jupiter and Saturn and their moons up close, and we still thought only Saturn had rings (imagine!).

When I went to college, somehow I decided that, at that time, my job prospects were better in aerospace than astronomy, so that is what I picked. I really like planes and flying, but I've never lost my love for space science. I got my bachelor's degree at the University of Colorado. If you want to become an aerospace engineer, study your math, science, and computers. Read up on aircraft and spacecraft history. Browse NASA's Web pages for lots of information on aeronautics and space projects (try http://www.arc.nasa.gov/).

Who Am I?
I have a great relationship with my girlfriend. I have a cat that I enjoy, when he behaves. I still enjoy amateur astronomy, and I especially enjoyed the two great comets we recently had and the new pictures from Mars. I still read science fiction. I especially like the sort with some science going on - like astronauts stranded in orbit and trying to figure out how to get home, or scientists discovering an alien spacecraft and trying to figure out what it is. I enjoy a lot of hobbies like growing orchids, photography, and pottery, and I like sports like biking, hiking, skiing, and roller hockey. I also build and fly remote-controlled model airplanes. I used to fly real sailplanes, but there isn't a flying site close to where I live anymore. There is too much neat stuff to do and learn to get bored.


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