LAS CRUCES , New Mexico-19 October 11
WSTF Intern Learns the Business of Propulsion
By: Heather L. Ogletree
From the fall of 2008 through the spring of 2011, the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) used Connect, its online application system, to survey its students in order to find out how they heard about the program, and the two most common ways students heard about USRP was through their university (44%) and online (18%). Spring 2011 USRP Intern Logan Ream falls into the first category. He said, “One of the professors at the University of Alabama told me about the opportunity.” Before the mechanical engineering major heard about USRP from his professor, Ream “thought NASA mystically did not have internships or co-ops.”
Last spring, Ream was chosen out of 711 applicants to participate in a 15 week hands on opportunity entitled “Dynamic Thrust Measurement System” at White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) in Las Cruces, New Mexico. According to Asher Liebermann, Ream’s NASA mentor, “The White Sands Test Facility performs testing of many propulsion components and propulsion systems for space flight and for industry.” Propulsion systems provide the thrust needed to launch rockets, spacecraft and aircraft. Jeremy Bruggemann, reams technical advisor while at WSTF indicated that, “Recent testing of small thrusters with high frequency pulsing profiles required higher natural frequencies than what is currently designed for in WSTF’s static fire thrust measurement systems.”
Therefore, it was Ream’s responsibility to create design concepts for a mobile unit that will be used to characterize the modes of vibration of the thrust measurement systems. “My project will enable WSTF engineers to characterize the vibrations carried through thrust stands that were originally designed for static loading,” explained Ream. “Once the modes are characterized, the thrust stand can be stabilized to handle the dynamic loading from a low-force thruster. The most interesting part of the project [was] cramming all this capability into a secure, relatively lightweight, portable system that will be shared between WSTF and [the University of Texas El Paso] UTEP.”
Ream faced his share of challenges at WSTF, and whether it was learning new software with another intern, researching acoustics, contacting vendors to compare quotes, or the time constraint of 15 weeks, with some hard work and weekly feedback from his mentor, Ream came out of each challenge more confident and with a sense of accomplishment. He noted, “Working on a project with a realistic budget has been a very rewarding and educational experience.”
During his time at White Sands, Ream also furthered his professional development. “I learned a lot from the people at work,” said Ream, “and not just about engineering.” He went on multiple tours of NASA WSTF departments, became familiar with the business side of engineering, conducted educational outreach at an elementary school, and gained invaluable experience in public speaking — five weeks into his internship, Ream volunteered to give a first-hand account of what is like to intern at NASA at UTEP’s Leadership Conference.
“Working on a project at NASA has made me anticipate working full-time after I graduate even more, and [has] given me…realistic expectations of what that means,” asserted Ream. “I hope to get a job where I can participate in real-world design like at WSTF.” He also intends to enroll in graduate courses to better himself as an engineer while working in the STEM industry.
He concluded, “The USRP program has been the best thing I have done for my career and my education.”