Meet Ernest Fretter
Manager, Business Development
Arc Jet Complex
NASA Ames Research Center
Ames Research Center
Who I am and what I do:
I manage the Arc Jet Complex business development for my branch (the Thermophysics
Facilities Branch within the Space Technology Division at Ames). I am the
primary point of contact between our test facilities and any NASA or outside
customers who could use our services. The Arc Jet Complex provides NASA
and its customers with a very high temperature gas flow at hypersonic velocities
for the design, testing and flight validation of thermal protection materials
on spacecraft, rockets, or planetary entry probes. My job is to listen
to what the engineers, scientists, or principle investigators about their
projects, help define the issues and technical problems they have, and
advise them on how NASA’s arc jet facilities can assist in the solution.
Areas of expertise:
- Mechanical engineering
- Plasma Physics
- Business ethics
How I first became interested in this
First became excited about space and space travel around 1955 and watching
Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland show on Man in Space, Man and the Moon, and
Mars and Beyond.
After that, it was Sputnik that got me excited about engineering.
What helped me prepare for this job
Encouraged by family (esp. mom’s love of history) to pursue science and
Church leaders who encouraged asking questions and inquirey.
Choose engineering and attended University of California in Berkeley in the
My role models or inspirations
Mr. Wizard (Donald Herbert)
My science and chemistry teachers in high school and especially my mentors
Mr. Mo Lawson and Hans von Ohain at the Air Force Research Laboratories in
My education and training
Education at University of California, Berkeley 1962 to 1970 with BS in Mechanical
Engineering and MS in Thermodynamics and worked toward a PhD (but did not
finish) in plasma physics and magneto hydrodynamics.
Training came via the
Air Force at their Research Lab in Dayton in electrofluid-dynamic direct
I returned to California and joined a private aerospace
company where I worked in operating and managing a small, 1-MW arc jet
test laboratory (testing materials for the Air Force, Navy, and NASA). Towards
the end of my career at Acurex-Aerotherm Corporation, I was the manager
of the Pacific Rim Operations (marketing and business development) working
very closely with our Japanese trade representatives. That lead to a brief
time as an independent consultant to NASA Ames and Italy’s
CIRA aerospace group (also in arc jet development). Finally I was hired
at NASA Ames in 2001.
- Strong science and math in high school
- Strong engineering school such
as University of California in Berkeley
- Air Force active duty at a great
research laboratory (where I was encouraged by the German rocket scientists
brought to Ohio after the war)
- Private industry that was very involved
in aerospace work for NASA and Department of Defense.
- A brief period as
a private consultant helped my confidence and my business education.
What I like best about my job
Getting to meet so many interesting and special people both within NASA and
in the aerospace area in general.
Getting a chance to work with younger engineers
and K-12 people and hopefully get them interested in space and sciences.
I’m still looking for the
crew of the first human mission to Mars and beyond.
What I like least about my job
Sometimes the slow pace of the work can be depressing, compared to what I recall
it was like about 10 or more years ago. Also, the change in reality that
favors the programs and not the research we need for future success.
My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Follow your dreams. You can make them happen. But also keep your options
open, as there may be a lot of fun in another area you had not even considered.
Get the best education you can (in the sciences as well as liberal arts)
Listen mostly and observe how your heroes get things done, how they interact
and how they are successful.
Enjoy what you’re doing and don’t be afraid to
laugh at the yourself and the world!