Tell us about the career path that led you to your present job.
Michelle Haupt -- Flight Operations Engineer
Since I could remember, I had always been interested in spaceflight. Growing up, both of my parents had jobs with technical and hands-on aspects, which filtered down to me. I enjoyed classes with lab projects and a lot of math. In the seventh-grade, I decided I wanted to be an engineer and, since I liked space, that became aerospace engineering. When I got to high school, I pushed to take every math and science class available, for I had made up my mind that I would work for NASA one day in the near future.
Shortly after starting college, I joined a design group that participated in NASA’s Johnson Space Center's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. My involvement with the team led me to learning about the co-operative student program at each of the NASA centers. A year later, I found myself working in the Structures branch at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in the middle of the Mojave Desert in California. There were planes flying all around me, and that semester I decided to focus my studies on atmospheric flight to one day be a part of the flight research teams at Dryden. After graduation, I became a full-time employee as an operations engineer for the C20-A (Gulfstream III) platform aircraft.
What attracted you to your career? When did you know you wanted this career?
I always loved space and couldn't get enough of the space movies that came out when I was growing up, like "Apollo 13." In the seventh-grade, I had made up my mind that I would be an aerospace engineer.
What was the most interesting class that you have taken to prepare you for your career?
The most interesting class I took was senior design my last year of college. In this class, we divided ourselves up into teams of six or seven and were tasked to design, build and fly a remote-controlled aircraft with a certain objective in mind. Our team chose to build an aerobatic aircraft, using the newer technology of electric motors. This class made me anxious to graduate and start my career in the flight-test world.
What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?
My career has only just begun, but the highlight so far has been the opportunity to travel all over the Western Hemisphere. It was heartbreaking when the earthquake hit Haiti, but I was pleased to find out that our project was asked to image the area a few days after to monitor the aftershocks and potential for mudslides.
G-III FLIGHT MISSION ROLE
Tell us about the project that you are working on now.
Currently, I am the lead flight operations engineer for Dryden's C20-A platform aircraft. An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, or UAVSAR, housed in a pod is flown attached to the belly of the aircraft. This radar images the surface of Earth as we fly over at 41,000 feet. I operate the Platform Precision Autopilot, or PPA, system, which keeps the aircraft flying within a 10-meter tube down the flight track. This allows the scientists to request flights over the same area, giving them images that can detect changes in the earth's surface. We routinely fly over active and dormant volcanoes, earthquake fault lines, ice formations and vegetation areas to give the scientific community new insight into early prediction of natural events.
What specific responsibilities do you have that are related to G-III flight missions?
I am responsible for submitting flight requests for given flight days, maintaining the weight and balance of the aircraft, and serving as Mission Director during the flight. As Mission Director, I operate the Platform Precision Autopilot system, taking control from the pilots once they have captured the line. During each line, I monitor various aircraft flight parameters and the position of the aircraft in the 10-meter flight tube. I also am responsible for implementing appropriate safety measures.
ADDITIONAL ADVICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
What NASA opportunities were you involved in as a young person?
When I was a freshman in college, I joined the Miners in Space team. This team was working on building a test structure that could perform metal inert gas, or MIG, welding in a microgravity environment. Each year, we submitted a proposal to the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to fly our microgravity welder on the "Weightless Wonder," a C-9 aircraft. I travelled with the team to Ellington Field in Houston four different times, flying twice and assisting the ground crew the other two times. I was also the team lead for three of the five years I was in college. My involvement with this team gave me a chance to apply what I was learning in class to something tangible and gave me a foot-in-the-door with NASA.
What advice would you give to students interested in a career in your field?
Take as many math and science courses as you can and find ways to apply what you have learned to hands-on projects. Do not ever let someone tell you that you will never be able to do something. When I told my friends and family I wanted to work for NASA and be an aerospace engineer when I was only 12, I got some weird looks and, sometimes, negative comments, but I did not let that stop me from pursuing what I knew I would love to do. I pushed myself to work hard, with my parents supporting me along the way, and in the end, I found myself in a career I never could have imagined.
Related NASA Articles:
› NASA Dryden Hosts Teachers for Airborne Research Experience (7.22.10)
› NASA G-III Flies Hawaiian Volcanoes Radar Mission (5.13.11)