A Woman in Aerospace
Two-time NASA intern Whitney Lohmeyer recently received the inaugural Women in Aerospace Foundation Scholarship for the 2010-2011 school year. During her internships, Lohmeyer, who will graduate soon from North Carolina State University with a degree in aerospace engineering, conducted research into attitude control systems and guidance, navigation, and controls of sounding rockets. She encourages students interested in NASA to seek out opportunities through the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program in their state.
In which NASA student opportunity projects did you participate, and how did you get involved in them?
Throughout the past three years I have been highly involved with the North Carolina Space Grant Consortium, a funding program run through NASA. With their funding, I was able to work as an intern with NASA Goddard (Space Flight Center) on their NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract located at the Wallops Flight Facility. I have also worked at NASA Langley (Research Center) through the National Institute of Aerospace and Georgia Tech's Space Systems Design Lab.
Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.
The first summer I spent at NASA, I worked on the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract, or NSROC, where I conducted research involving attitude control systems and guidance, navigation, and controls for the sounding rockets. During my time I processed and reduced solar sensor data to determine attitude and participated in solar sensor and magnetometer calibrations. I compared the current methods for estimating solar aspect using calibration data to understand the variability seen in the calibration process and improved solar aspect reduction software. Knowing the orientation of the rocket is very important for the scientists and investigators conducting experiments with the sounding rockets. Looking into this research area will provide improved approaches for the engineers to gather and process data from the rockets.
The second summer I spent at NASA Langley through the National Institute of Aerospace working with Georgia Tech’s Space Systems Design Laboratory. I programmed a subroutine for optimization of in-space vehicles to develop the most efficient combination of stages for "flex path" missions to the moon, Lagrange points, an asteroid, near-Earth objects, Martian moons, Mars and Venus. This was a very helpful project, as it improved my programming skills; introduced me to the world of space systems design, which helped me to find out several career goals; and prepared me for several classes. The project also helps the members of Georgia Tech's Space Systems Design Lab process different mission data quickly and is a component for a future systems analysis program that could encompass entire systems and trajectory analysis.
What has been the most exciting part of your research?
The most exciting part of my research with NSROC was meeting the individuals who work night and day to assure that the sounding rockets are successful and seeing the process from beginning to end. NSROC manufactures all of their parts in-house in Virginia, implements the different components, and does everything including launching the rocket. To spend a summer working behind the scenes, while also being able to watch the final product take off, was very fulfilling!
The second summer I really enjoyed meeting the people as well. I was surrounded with graduate students that were very welcoming and made me feel like I was part of their research family. My mentors were very helpful and taught me so much, not only about space systems analysis but about my future as well. I knew when I left that summer I had taken away a great deal of knowledge that I wouldn't have received anywhere else.
What is your educational background and what are your future educational plans?
I attended year-round public schools for my elementary through high school in Cary, N.C., before coming to North Carolina State in August of 2007 and majoring in aerospace engineering. I have continued my undergraduate education there and will graduate in May of 2011. After that I plan to attend graduate school and earn my master’s and Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at either Virginia Tech or Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researching space systems and orbital debris mitigation.
What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?
I have always loved mentoring students and serving as a tutor, so I have known for a while I wanted to have a career involved with education. However, it wasn’t until college when I started conducting research under my mentor, Dr. Fred DeJarnette, that I realized I wanted to become a professor. To have the opportunity to help students excel and inspire them to pursue careers in technical fields while also being able to conduct research that pertains to your own interests are two of my passions, and becoming a professor allows for individuals to concentrate on both of those areas.
What do you think will be the most important things you’ll take away from your involvement with NASA?
I think that working efficiently with others and networking are the two most important things that I have gathered from my NASA experiences. I have seen firsthand that the different NASA centers work as a collective group of individuals that are more like a family than just a group of people working at the same location. The ability to carry on research and tasks in this manner is important and establishes a successful environment for efficient work.
Tell about the scholarship that you received and how it will affect your future.
I recently received the inaugural Women in Aerospace scholarship and attended the WIA awards banquet on October 26, 2010. At the awards banquet I was able to meet so many inspiring women involved with different areas of the aerospace industry. Among them were Lori Garver (Deputy Administrator of NASA), Dr. Alison Flatau (Professor at University of Maryland), Debra Facktor Lepore (WIA Foundation President), Nancy Grace Roman (Chief Astronomer NASA, retired), and many others. The accomplishments of these women were outstanding and provide motivation for me to continue pursuing my dreams in the field of aerospace engineering. The scholarship not only provided funds for my education but also created a networking environment that fostered new friendships and hopefully lifelong aerospace colleagues.
What are your future career plans?
After I earn my Ph.D., I plan to return to academia as a faculty member, where I will continue conducting research involving orbital debris and space systems and mentoring students! My dream would be to return to North Carolina State University, my alma mater!
What advice would you have for other students who are interested in becoming involved with, or working for, NASA?
For students who are interested in working for NASA, my advice would be to get involved with your state’s Space Grant Consortium. North Carolina Space Grant Consortium has provided countless opportunities for me over the past three years that I would not have had without their support. They fund undergraduates and graduate students for summer internship experiences and have great connections with the different centers and individuals at NASA.
Who was your NASA mentor?
I have had several great mentors at NASA! Brent Edwards and Christine Power were the individuals I primarily worked with on the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract, and Dr. Alan Wilhite and Dr. Doug Stanley were my mentors at the NIA working at NASA Langley. These individuals have played a major role in my life and have supplied amazing research experiences for me as an undergraduate. The graduate students that I worked with this past summer also served as mentors from the day that I arrived. They were so helpful and really made me feel like I was part of the group!
› NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
› NASA's Langley Research Center
› National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program
› North Carolina Space Grant →
› National Institute of Aerospace →
› NASA Leaders Receive Awards From Women in Aerospace
› NASA Education
Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services