Paul Rieder, one of the lead designers for the J-2X rocket engine test project at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, had two passions as a teenager – the saxophone and science. He ultimately decided that the life of a starving musician was not for him.
Rieder's parents, Mildred and the late Paul T. Rieder Jr., nourished their only son's interest in science and engineering. They fulfilled his Christmas wish lists for beakers, boiling flasks and Bunsen burners to complement his chemistry and physics sets. His father would take him to the airport in their hometown of New Orleans to watch planes take off and land. When it came to science and engineering, if Rieder couldn't solve a problem on his own, he could get assistance from his relatives, some of whom were chemists and engineers.
Rieder went on to earn master's degrees in mechanical engineering and business administration from Tulane University in New Orleans. After college, he worked at Amstar sugar refinery (the company that produces Domino Sugar), Occidental Chemical Company, and the consulting firm Gulf South Engineers. In 1987, he began overseeing the sustaining engineering program on a Teledyne Brown Engineering contract at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. He stayed there for three years before taking a job at Stennis Space Center.
His first three jobs were very intense and production oriented, preparing him for what he considers the most challenging aspect of his work at Stennis: solving technical issues quickly in order to meet testing schedule deadlines. However, it was his work at Amstar, where he did everything from engineering to power plant operating, that best prepared him for handling any problem he might encounter at Stennis.
Rieder has been part of many significant achievements at Stennis. He was responsible for the design of the hydrogen system on the high heat flux facility that became the E-2 Test Stand. He views the experimental X-33 rocket plane and J-2X power pack testing as high points of his career because both presented challenges in regards to their budgets and deadlines and the amount of resources available. The engineers at Stennis were able to overcome all of these challenges.
As the space shuttle program nears retirement in 2010, and the Constellation Program will replace it, returning humans to the moon aboard the Orion crew capsule that will be launched into space by the Ares I rocket. The Ares V cargo launch vehicle will be used to carry cargo and the components needed to go to the moon and later to Mars. In May 2006, NASA began developing a design for testing the power pack component of the J-2X engine that will power the upper stage of the Ares I and the Earth departure stage of the Ares V. The power pack consists of the main turbo-machinery components of the J-2X engine. Rieder finds gratification in knowing the work he does will play a key role in America's space program.
"The most satisfactory thing about working on J-2X is that I'm working on a project that I know one day will fly," he said. "I've seen some projects cancelled due to lack of funding and never got to see them fly. I believe we will see the J-2X engine on a vehicle that's going to return astronauts to the moon."
As a lead designer for the J-2X engine test project, Rieder's main duty is to ensure that the mechanical designs meet the programmatic, operational and maintenance requirements. Time is a precious resource when faced with deadlines, and judgment calls are based on past experience and quick calculations.
"We need to solve technical issues without impacting the testing schedule," Rieder said.
According to Rieder, the cooperation taking place for the J-2X is a testament to the importance of the project. Stennis is working with Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center as an integrated team. All were involved in the conceptual design reviews.
NASA's appreciation for Rieder's work recently included recognition of his contribution to flight safety. He was one of 13 Stennis employees selected by NASA's Space Flight Awareness Program to visit Kennedy Space Center for the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour on March 11. For Rieder, it was akin to the trips he took to the airport as a child, but on a grander scale.
At age 54, Rieder has considered retirement but doesn't see it happening any time soon. After 17 years at Stennis, he still finds the job challenging, which makes him happy to come to work each day.
"We face problems that are not really seen in other industries," Rieder said. "It requires pushing the envelope on a lot of design, analysis and construction. It would be tough to give up the enjoyment of coming in and all the challenges we face. I'm fortunate; I have good people supporting me, and it makes my job much easier."
Rieder is pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Mississippi State University. He and his wife, Linda, live in Slidell, La.
For information about Stennis Space Center, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/
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