BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. – 2 Sep 11
Linamaria Perez: Look Mom, I’m a Rocket Scientist!
By: Heather L. Ogletree
A rocket scientist is defined as a person who performs engineering work in designing, constructing, and testing aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft. So for 15 weeks of her life, Linamaria Perez, a senior mechanical engineering major, could actually claim the name “Rocket Scientist”. In the spring of 2011, Perez moved from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus, to Bay St. Louis, Miss., to intern at Stennis Space Center (SSC), where she would gain experience facilitating several ongoing rocket propulsion test programs under the guidance of NASA Mentor Daniel C. Allgood.
At first, moving back to the mainland proved to be a challenge. She said, “I had to overcome…the fact that I was going to be alone for a long period of time without my parents for the first time in my life.” However, her desire to work for NASA overcame her hesitation, and she accepted her offer from the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP).
“My project was to create a program on Matlab that could predict the acoustic loads that would be generated by the engines based on their exit nozzle diameter, the thrust, and exit velocity,” explained Perez. “I have not taken any classes on acoustics yet at my university so I have learned a lot about the subject through my project. This will help me in the future when I am learning more about engines, because I got ‘hands-on’ experience with acoustics and better understand what is happening.” Besides not having prior experience with acoustics, Perez also had basic knowledge of Matlab. She indicated, “The difficulty of programming here was much greater than anything I had done before. I learned a lot of new things about programming which will [also] definitely be useful…back at school.”
According to Perez, her most interesting experience was when she witnessed the rocket tests. She noted, “These engines are very powerful. You do not really get to appreciate the affect they have on their surroundings until you see the data produced…and actually witness the tests in person.” This also gave her a better understanding on the overall impact of her acoustic load prediction program. She stated, “These predictions would help people know where the highest acoustic loads are, allowing proper adjustments. For example, it will let you know how far away people must be from the engine being tested so that they do not suffer hearing loss or you can study the effects of the acoustic loads over a building that is a certain distance away from the test stand.”
While at SSC, Perez also co-authored a technical report with her mentor for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Technical reports are a requirement of all USRP interns, but not all students can claim a co-authorship with their mentors.
After Perez graduates, she plans to study aerospace engineering in graduate school, hopefully while working at NASA. She recalled, “Since I was in the second grade and learned about NASA, learned what aerospace and mechanical engineers were, I knew that it is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and that is where I wanted to work. This internship confirmed that I do enjoy studying to be an engineer because my work kept me motivated the entire time.”
Perez, too, made her mark on SSC. Allgood commented, “We are actively implementing the analysis tool which Lina Perez developed into our standard design and analysis workflow. Also, recent rocket testing at Stennis Space Center has further validated the reliability of the new acoustic prediction tool.”