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Tom Benson - Senior Research Engineer
September 16, 2010

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Tell us about the project that you are working on now.

Tell us about the career path that led you to your present job.

What attracted you to a career in rocketry?

What was the most interesting or unique experience in your career with NASA?

If you could spend an hour with a person who made a significant contribution to science or rocketry, who would that person be? Why?

Is there a science misconception that you would like to "bust?" What would you say?

Are you involved in any student rocketry projects as a mentor or advisor? If so, please tell us about it.


What advice would you give to students interested in a career in rocketry?


Tell us about the project that you are working on now.

At NASA Glenn, I wear two hats. In my technical job, I write, verify and apply computational fluid dynamics programs for propulsion systems. I am also heavily involved with educational outreach. I have written and maintain a website for NASA called the Beginner's Guide to Rockets with some interactive computer programs to design and test model rockets.

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Tell us about the career path that led you to your present job.

Careers begin in grade school. I liked math, science, airplanes, kites, rockets, (and) space and read everything I could find about these subjects. In high school, I did science fair projects about computers. In college, I studied aeronautical and astronautical engineering at Ohio State University and was at the top of my class. College provided me with the fundamentals, and I learned the application of these fundamentals in the Air Force for four years at Wright Patterson AFB. I returned to OSU to work on a Ph.D., then applied and came to work at NASA in 1978.

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What attracted you to a career in rocketry?

As a young person, I had an interest in space and space travel. NASA's Mercury and Gemini programs were in progress when I was in high school, and the moon landings occurred when I was in college.

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What was the most interesting or unique experience in your career with NASA?

During the summer of 2008, I was asked to participate in the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival concerning the culture of NASA. I had a small wind tunnel testing model rockets on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for two weeks. It was fun to show the public how engineers do their job.

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If you could spend an hour with a person who made a significant contribution to science or rocketry, who would that person be?

Isaac Newton, inventor of calculus and discoverer of the laws of motion and gravitation. Rocket science is an application of Newton's three laws of motion.

Why?

Newton is one of the world's smartest people. I could learn from him.

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Is there a science misconception that you would like to "bust?" What would you say?

Many students (and teachers!) incorrectly believe that there is no gravity in low Earth orbit. In LEO, one experiences free-fall, not loss of gravity. At 200 miles, an object weighs 91 percent of its surface value. High orbital velocity (~17,500 mph) relative to the surface of Earth causes a spacecraft and all its inhabitants to fall at the same rate as the curvature of Earth.

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Are you involved in any student rocketry projects as a mentor or advisor? If so, please tell us about it.

My Beginner's Guide website and RocketModeler software have been used in rocketry competitions and the Science Olympiad. To correctly predict the drag of a model rocket, I had two high school shadow-students build and wind-tunnel test more than 40 model rockets to establish a database that is used in RocketModeler.

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What advice would you give to students interested in a career in rocketry?

Everything counts! You have to know math and science, but also teamwork (music, sports), reading and writing (English, literature), history, foreign language and good health.


Related Resources:

> Beginner's Guide to Rockets
> NASA's Glenn Research Center
> NASA Education


David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services

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Tom Benson and two high school students testing rocket models in a wind tunnel
Name: Tom Benson Job Title: Senior Research Engineer Education: Bachelor of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, Ohio State University, 1970; Master of Science, OSU, 1971 NASA Center: Glenn Research Center Hometown: Berea, Ohio Hobby: Biking, Guitar, Classical Music, Astronomy, Model Rockets
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NASA
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Page Last Updated: February 25th, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator