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Meet: David Mayer

RAHF Project Manager
Lead Mechanical Engineer for ARC Neurolab Payload
SLE Assistant Branch Chief
Ames Research Center



Who I Am

As the Research Animal Holding Facility (RAHF) project manager my job was to orchestrate the refurbishment of the RAHF. I brought together a team of engineers, scientists and technicians to redesign and refit RAHF in various ways to prepare it for the Neurolab mission.

As the lead Mechanical Engineer, I coordinated the efforts of several engineers to address the ARC portion of the structural and thermal requirements for spaceflight. As the assistant branch chief, I was the chairman of the design review team for the stowage effort on Neurolab in addition to "other duties as assigned."

My Career Journey

I always wanted to be an engineer. When I was younger I just didn't know it was called engineering. I was the kid who disassembled the telephone (I have reassembled several that work), built go-carts, and modified bicycles (I built my own bike frame at age 13). Then I found cars.

I was very active in modifying cars for racing and off-road use in high school and in my early 20s. During my senior year of high school my partner and I won the State, National, and International Championships in the Plymouth Troubleshooting Contest (now sponsored by AAA).

After high school and some tech schooling I ran my own shop where I worked developing custom turbocharged engines and race cars in addition to regular auto repairs. The custom work brought me into contact with real engineers and the concept of "modeling" several solutions on paper before you build the hardware. I decided to return to school and pursue a mechanical engineering degree.

I went first to the local community college called De Anza College and then to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA, where I graduated Cum Laude. At school I worked on a human powered helicopter and an ultra-high mileage vehicle (1,000MPG). I worked a summer at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, as well as in the CAD [computer assisted design] lab for Cal Poly.

After graduation, I got my dream job working on space flight hardware for NASA.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Likes/Dislikes about career

I really enjoy the reaction I get from people when they find out I'm an engineer at NASA. I really like building things and seeing the hardware we put together work.

Lots of paperwork.

Preparation for Career

Be inquisitive. I was very inquisitive and had the good luck of having parents and adults around me that helped me answer the questions I was interested in. I encourage kids to ask "Why?" and don't stop until you have an answer that you understand. To adults, as much as possible, never answer with "Because." Because is not a responsive answer. There is usually a reason why something is done a particular way.

I read a lot of different kinds of books - still do. I read technical books, "hobby" books (woodworking, cars, dogs, ...), interpersonal books about how to better myself and work better with other people, science fiction books, and map books (I like maps). I generally try to find books on any subject I'm interested in.


Never give up. I grew up in the '60s with astronauts as heroes. I didn't think I would ever be involved with the space program though.

Build stuff. I like to build things and feel there is no substitute for hands-on experience. Build with wood, metal, plastic, paper, fabric, whatever is available and appropriate for the project. When you build a project you learn about what is and isn't possible with that material. You also learn organizational skills for laying out a project and completing it. When you build your own design you learn even more.


There were several, but two people really stand out in my mind. The first is a teacher I had in elementary school: Van Adams. He taught me that if there was anything I wanted to do or learn I had to do it or learn it for myself. Nobody else could learn for me, or do much of anything else for me, if I didn't do it myself.

The second was Jim Deteach. He introduced me to the engineering concept of modeling in the real world, modeling a real world system with math, and is largely responsible for my return to school as an engineer.

Personal Information

I am getting married on May 31, 1998 to a wonderful woman named Margaret. We have two dogs, Nikki and Shasta.

We enjoy camping, backpacking and four wheeling in my Jeep. I'm a member of the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs (they have a web site) and Fremont F-troop Jeep Club.

We are also buying a 160 acre ranch in Shasta County (Gunnysack Ranch) to retire on someday. It has some cattle and eight peacocks on it now. Someday we will build our dream house on the ranch and I'll name the road to it Easy Street.

Here are some pictures: click on each to see larger size
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Nikki & Shasta
when Shasta was 3 months old.

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The Jeep on the rocks
at Hollister Hills SRVA in CA

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Gunnysack Ranch

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Peacock at the Ranch


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