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Meet Ernest Fretter

photo of 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
  • Thermodynamics
  • Plasma Physics
  • Business ethics

How I first became interested in this profession
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 engineering.
Church leaders who encouraged asking questions and inquirey.
Choose engineering and attended University of California in Berkeley in the 60’s

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 Dayton Ohio.

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 energy conversion.

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.

Career Path

  • 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!

 
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