Meet: Fanny Zuniga
Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, California
Who I Am
I am an aerospace engineer working in the Applied Aerodynamics Division
at NASA-Ames Research Center. I basically work as a research engineer
and spend most of my time conducting experiments and studying data to
help build better airplanes and space vehicles. I have been an aerospace
engineer at NASA for almost 10 years and over that time have worked on
a variety of projects.
I am currently working on the High-Speed Research
project where our goal is to build a new High-Speed Civil Transport. This
new airplane will be a supersonic commercial transport which promises
to carry up to 300 passengers and fly at Mach 2.4 across the Atlantic
and Pacific Oceans in about half the time of today's commercial transports.
My role on this project is to help develop and test new high-lift technology
for this airplane that will ensure good performance during the takeoff,
approach and landing phases of its flight. I work as the project director
for the low-speed wind-tunnel tests that happen here at Ames and I am
responsible for evaluating the high-lift performance of the airplane models
that are tested.
There are several stages to my work. First, I need
to do some research and learn about high-lift systems (slats and flaps)
that have been used in the past on other supersonic and subsonic airplanes.
I then make suggestions and recommendations for what we should test and
what I think will work on the latest airplane design. Next I put together
a plan for a wind-tunnel test. This takes a lot of organization and communication
between the model designers and model makers, test engineers and researchers,
mechanics and technicians. I then am very involved in the test and evaluating
the data during the test to ensure we are recording accurate information.
After the test, I spend a lot of time studying the data and trying to
understand why or why not the high-lift devices did or didn't work. I
then report the results to the rest of the team and finally it's on to
thinking about what we should test next and I start the whole process
over again. The reason we keep testing is because at the same time the
airplane design keeps changing to meet the needs of the other technical
groups. There are several other groups that also want to change the airplane
so that their engine, wing, material, etc. will work better. It takes
a lot of organization skill to make for a successful test but most importantly
it takes the math and science skills of many talented professionals to
ensure a successful airplane design.
My Average Day
An average day for me depends on what stage of the test the team is at.
My day is never boring there are always unexpected and sometimes complicated
problems to resolve. It can be very challenging at times to try to keep
everything organized and running smoothly. However, it is very rewarding
to know your work is contributing to a national project that will make
supersonic travel available to everyone and at the same time bring economic
prosperity to our country. It's also especially rewarding to know that
you are making a contribution to science from the knowledge gained from
As A Child
Since I was very young, I always loved math and science. And since I can
remember I always wanted to work for NASA. I fell in love with NASA and
the space program back in the days of the Apollo lunar program. Ever since
then it was always my dream to work for such an honorable and prestigious
organization and to make my own contribution to science and space exploration
some day. However, I knew it wasn't going to be easy to achieve my dreams.
I had many obstacles and barriers to overcome first.
I grew up in a single-parent family which had just
immigrated to this country from Latin America so I had language difficulties,
cultural barriers and financial difficulties to overcome. From where I
grew up, my dreams really seemed farfetched and unrealistic. Most people
around me did not offer a lot of encouragement to me either. Fortunately,
I was self-motivated enough to work extremely hard and earn a 4-year academic
scholarship to Syracuse University where I earned a Bachelor of Science
degree in Aerospace Engineering. After graduation, I was extremely fortunate
enough to land my first engineering job at NASA. I have since then earned
a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from USC and am currently
working on my Ph.D. degree at Stanford University.
I am still working very hard to realize my ultimate dream to become an
Astronaut. Last year, I was chosen as a finalist for the Astronaut Candidate
program and was invited to go to Johnson Space Center-Houston and try
out with a group of about 100 finalists. Although I did not make the final
cut that year, it was an unbelievable accomplishment and experience for
me. It was a dream I thought I never would come close to achieving. It
is truly incredible what you can achieve when you pour your heart and
soul into it. I will definitely keep trying out for the Astronaut Corps
and do whatever it takes for however long it may take to one day achieve
this dream of mine.
My advice to you is to never, ever give up on your
dreams no matter how unrealistic they may appear to be. You must always
believe in yourself and be committed to doing whatever it takes to achieve
even the impossible. Remember you owe it to yourself to find your special
talent and this will be your special gift to the world.
Archived QuestChats with Fanny