Meet: Grant Palmer
Computational Fluid Dynamics Engineer
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA
Who I Am
I work in a field known as computational fluid dynamics or CFD for short.
When a spacecraft such as the Space Shuttle returns to Earth from space,
the friction caused by the air rushing past the surface of the vehicle
causes it to heat up. What I do is to write computer programs that predict
how hot the vehicle surface will get. This is important because without
CFD you would have to guess how hot the vehicle would get. If your guess
is wrong, the vehicle would either be heavier than it had to be or it
would get damaged when it returned to Earth.
CFD involves a lot of computer programming. You also
have to know physics and chemistry. It is exciting because what you do
has a big impact on spacecraft design and you can actually see vehicles
you have helped design being built and flown.
My Career Path
I've always been interested in airplanes and space. When I was in high
school, I wanted to be an airline pilot. But because I sometimes get airsick,
I figured that was probably not a good career choice. I went to college
and got a degree in Mechanical Engineering which is a good general-purpose
major. I got a summer job at NASA-Ames Research Center when I was a junior,
and when I graduated I was offered a full time job. I had several choices
of what I could do at NASA and I chose CFD.
What I Like About My Job
One of the positive aspects of my job is that people working for NASA
have a lot of freedom to be creative and to do things that have never
been done before. When you work for a company, the company is primarily
concerned with making money, and the things you are allowed to work on
are limited by that.
On the negative side, you don't get many perks working
for the government. You don't get fancy Christmas parties or stock options.
When I Was a Child
I built model rockets, the kind that you can launch into the air. I also
took some advanced math classes like calculus in high school. We had one
of the early Apple computers at home that I liked to play with.
I would tell all young people, not just those interested in pursuing a
science career, to keep your options open by taking math and science courses
in junior high school and high school. When I was in high school I wanted
to be an airline pilot. If I had said, "airline pilots don't need math,
why should I take it" I would not have been able to work for NASA today.
My Future Plans
I would like to keep doing what I am doing, discover some new things,
and do things that no one has done before.
I am married with a two year old son, Jackson. I have a little mutt dog
named Bailey who I bring to work with me about once a week. Bailey sits
in my office or sometimes on my lap while I work. I am a swimmer. I usually
swim in a pool but in May I swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco
as part of a race.
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