Friday, June 10, 2005

In which lightning strikes and thunder rumbles

Week one has come to an end (excepting the exciting weekend of team-building fun that lies ahead!). I have several things to say on many different fronts, so let's see if I can find a way to keep this organized.

I'll start off with my impressions on NASA and Glenn Research Center as an organization. It's no small secret that NASA has been faced with seemingly unending budget and personnel cuts, which seem to be on everyone's mind (and mouths) around here. I can't begin to count the number of times I've heard the phrase “Progress seems to be going very well on Project X, but we'll probably get cut next month anyway.” I've been to several meetings, most of which weren't budgetary based, but all of which ended up wandering in that direction. Everyone talks about the “rumors” that are flying around, most of which turn out to be true. Today I heard that Glenn is facing a 75% budget cut on most of its research and development.

No one here is secure about his job or his future. Today my boss told me that Glenn barely survived for another year, and has narrowly survived being shut down each year for as long as he's been working here. Everyone seems to have an opinion, but there doesn't seem to be any consensus as to who or what to blame. One problem I heard about today was that the employees of NASA are very bimodal; there is a group of aging experienced engineers who have been around since the 60s, and a younger group who has been hired within the last 10 or 15 years. When personnel cuts arise (and they do…very frequently) the young engineers are the ones to go based on seniority. But the aging professionals are already beginning to retire, and in about 5 years they will be largely extinct on the NASA scene. Which, you guessed it, means that NASA is going to be in even bigger trouble in the near future.

Also, at every meeting and tour I've been at, with the exception of my fellow interns, I have not seen a single woman in an engineering or research position.

That said, I'm torn about the aerospace industry and my potential future involvement with it. Seeing all the amazing things that are going on at NASA has re-stimulated my interest in space in a huge way; the bureaucracy has completely stifled it. Environmental engineering has started to sound more and more appealing. And if in the future I want to get involved in the space industry there are definitely applications. If lunar and Martian colonies are ever going to become a reality, they will have to be completely self-contained closed-loop systems. That's a serious environmental engineering problem (all waste has to be completely re-processed into usable resources, etc.).

But, who knows. I still don't know if engineering is even the right field for me. One of the things I have liked about the projects going on at NASA is that so many of them are multi-disciplinary. I think whatever I end up doing, it can't be monotonous. Any field where I would have an opportunity to constantly learn new things (yes I know, that sounds so cheesy) would be ideal. That's one thing I think I'll like about my summer position here. I've already had to brush up on my (practically non-existent) electronics skills to hook up an experimental set-up. Today I sat in a meeting (all day long! But that's beside the point…) about a new kind of cutting edge discrete element modeling software for particle analysis. I learned so much about particle dynamics just in one day, and its applications to agriculture, mining, medicine, and many other things.

But I'm rambling…and digressing…

Back to what's been going on at “The Academy.” Wow, what a pretentious name. I try to use it as infrequently as possible (except, of course, in places like the previous sentence, when it has sarcastic merit).

We've decided on a group project, and it is going to be (yay!) producing an educational television program about the space industry. I'm immensely excited about it. Who knows how successful it will be, but we already have some awesome ideas. A fellow group member's boss came up with a really cool idea; he suggested we do a human factors simulation/study of a manned mission to Mars. We already have five people living in very close quarters for an extended period of time, so we could get NASA scientists to send us problems at random intervals that we would have to “deal with” to simulate how astronauts would have to adapt in the field. We are thinking about doing that for a week and documenting it all on video for one of our segments.

Hmmm…what else has been going on around here? The hellish weather was finally dissipated by a massive thunderstorm that hit this afternoon (right as I was walking back from work). I seriously thought I was going to get hit by lightning (but I think all that proves is that I'm a wuss when it comes to thunderstorms). Now the Ohio weather is finally bearable (but who knows how long it will stay that way).

Today we had some mandatory “team-building” exercises. They weren't as exciting as a ropes course so…I'm just going to leave it at that.

Everyone here is getting along well, but nonetheless, I think I'm going to go insane if I can't get away for 9 more weeks. Today we might go check out the Cleveland “nightlife”.

Um…just wondering…how are other people's summers going? I haven't heard from many of you…

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