Meet: Chuck Cornelison
NASA Ames Research Center's Ballistic Range Complex
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
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.
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.