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Meet: Dave Korsmeyer

a photo of David

Computational Sciences, Ames Research Center

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Who am I
I am in the Computational Sciences Division. I run a technical group called Variational Design. I also hold another title: I am a Level 2 Program Manager for the Aeronautics Information Technology Base Program which supports the Aeronautics side of NASA. As a group leader I lead a team of technical folks to develop advanced information technologies and systems. We find an area at NASA that needs some help and we develop systems; that includes the hardware or the software, or sometimes both, to assist in getting the job done. For example, we worked on near-real-time remote access to wind tunnel data (Project DARWIN, Distributed Remote Aeronautics Management, http://www.darwin.arc.nasa.gov/).

My responsibility as project manager within the group is to define the problems and break them into component pieces, to assign activities and set milestones for these activities (like two weeks from now we need this little widget done) and to assign resources to the activities (I might tell a team member you have to work on this half time.) I also might identify if we need new equipment or if we need to hire someone new. This is what I do for several different projects.

In my Level 2 Program Manager job I am looking at problems at a higher level. There I am concerned with the idea that there might be researchers throughout NASA working on similar ideas, and I am concerned with coordinating the different projects to see that they work together and share information. An example of this is that I was working on the remote access to wind tunnel data project here at Ames, and there were also people working on this project at Lewis and Langley. Or trying to couple a computational fluid dynamics project that would fit together with the wind tunnel information project - that's Program Management.

My Career Journey
I am an aerospace engineer. I have a bachelor's, a master's, and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. My Ph.D. is in celestial mechanics - the math about how objects move in space. In order to work in that area you need to know how to use computers efficiently and how to program. I am very interested in aeronautics and space and I like computers a lot. I came to NASA to work on applying advanced computer systems to NASA problems after completing my graduate degree at University of Texas at Austin. I got my undergraduate degree at Pennsylvania State University. As a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, and I decided I wanted to be an engineer, because I like to fix things. I like to solve problems, and once I got into aerospace engineering I discovered I like to solve those problems more than any others.

Why I Like My Job
I am in a position to make a difference in the way that people look at the world, and in the long term how people are going to live a hundred years from now. One way I can do this is through NASA's exploration and research activity. Our job is to go and figure out new things. Another way that I can do this is using the newest computer technology. I know that anything I do will eventually become dated, but for now I get to work on the latest technology which is stimulating and exciting. It's like living a Nintendo game -- I get to do all the exploration/research stuff and decide what we get to try next. Technology is changing so rapidly we are often playing catch up. The industry is moving so fast, that the big companies like Boeing and Microsoft are bigger than NASA now. We have to be careful to work together with the many groups in the industry. But NASA still has its unique focus.

As A Child
I was a Boy Scout, in band, and in sports where I learned how to do things in teams. People think Ph.D.s work off by themselves, but I still work in teams. I was a voracious reader, especially science fiction stories, and I used to do model rocketry. I was very interested in fixing things, so I used to repair household appliances and equipment all the time. I liked computers a lot and learned how to use them. I didn't know how to fix things always but I wanted to understand how things worked.

The key thing is to want to solve a problem or to understand something. You don't have to be very good at it, yet. That's the same as in research, we don't necessarily know how to solve a problem. The point is that we keep figuring out how to do things. Perseverance, or keeping at it, is the quality that's needed for research and engineering. You don't have to be a straight A student (I wasn't), you just have to keep going and trying.

Early Influences
I had a lot of good teachers that encouraged exploration and doing things differently. I also had lots of encouragement at home.

Future Goals
I still enjoy what I am doing very much and plan to stay here for awhile. If another very interesting engineering challenge came along, I would jump at that.

Personal Information
I read a lot and I still like fixing things at home. I have two daughters, and my wife is also a scientist/mom. Several of the senior and influential people that I work with are women. I would say girls and boys have equal opportunities at NASA and in science and engineering.


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