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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 NASA Ames. Within this research and development complex there are currently three 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. Another 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. The third facility in the complex is called the Hypervelocity Free-Flight Gun Development Facility (HFFGDF). As it’s name suggests, it is main purpose is to study how to expand the operating capabilities of the guns used throughout the complex.

I lead a team of highly skilled technicians that operate and maintain these three facilities and conduct tests for visiting researchers. Currently, much of our work is focused on entry vehicles such as a next generation vehicle to ultimately replace the space shuttle, or an exploratory vehicle that could be used to send a rover and various science instruments to another planet, such as Mars. We do tests to make sure the entry vehicles won't tumble out of control when they enter the planet’s atmosphere. I’ll describe how the facilities work shortly, but first let me tell you a little bit about myself.

My Career Path
When I was six years old, 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 some day.

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 in 1986.

Why I like my Job
One of the best things about my job is the people that I work with. These folks are wonderful, down-to-earth, dedicated people. Also my job is very unique. There are always new programs to work on, so it's never boring. My job has flexible hours. I have many responsibilities such as: scheduling testing and maintenance activities, managing the operational budget, designing facility components (my personal favorite), developing techniques to improve facility performance, assisting with testing operations, troubleshooting instrumentation problems, writing reports, and maintaining 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. However, most of the time I thoroughly 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 and football. 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 ancestry is rather diverse and includes: Scottish, English, Irish, Syrian and Native American (one of the Iroquois speaking tribes). I find that Native American Spiritual traditions, and views as they pertain to the environment and leading a balanced life, strike a chord with me.

I would highly recommend a balanced education. Science is important, but so are the other subjects (such as art, literature, history, etc.), especially when navigating through life. People skills are very important too. As life’s journey unfolds, it becomes clear that balance (in both education and lifestyle) provides the best opportunity for good health, happiness and career success. Also, I should mention that early on in my career at Ames, I earned a masters degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford. Having had a couple years of work experience, before pursuing graduate school, helped me to appreciate how the courses were relevant and applicable to my job.

Future Goals
I want to continue doing what I am doing because there are many interesting programs in the works right now.  For instance, designing and building the next generation spacecraft to replace the shuttle, returning to the Moon, and further exploratory journeys to Mars to name a few. It would appear that we are at the early stages of another exciting era of space exploration, not unlike the days of Apollo. So, this time instead of watching it on television I want to be a part of it.

I play guitar and sing in a band called “The Free Radicals.” We practice about once every two weeks, and play occasionally at parties, weddings, and club/bar gigs. My wife Heidi is a former schoolteacher that is now a stay-at-home mom. We have three children, Joey, Charlie and Natalie who are 6, 4 and 2 years old, and who keep us very busy. We live in a sleepy little coastal community called Montara, that’s about 20 minutes south of San Francisco. I also have a 16-year old son, Kevin, from a previous marriage who lives with his mom in Colorado. I’m a very Spiritual person and I enjoy exercise, outdoor activities, music, writing, reading and family time.
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