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NASA's Dr. Shamim Rahman Advises Aspiring Scientists And Engineers
09.24.03
 
Dr. Shamim Rahman Image: Dr. Shamim Rahman is NASA's Chief Engineer for the Propulsion Test Directorate at Stennis Space Center.

"Reach outside your comfort zone for career success," said Dr. Shamim Rahman. As a student of Indian origin attending Texas A&M University in 1981, Rahman was surprised to find himself working for the U.S. space program. After all, Rahman reasoned, he was merely attending college on an immigrant visa. He wasn't even an American citizen.

But a co-operative program between Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston provided Rahman the opportunity to pursue what he still considers "the job of my dreams."

Born in Jamshedpur, India, but raised in Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf, Rahman was fascinated by flight, routinely visiting airports just to watch takeoffs and landings. At age 16 in 1979, he came to the United States to pursue his dream of becoming an aerospace engineer. After his freshman year at Texas A&M, thanks to NASA's co-op program, he began working for the Space Shuttle scheduling support office at Rockwell International Corp., the NASA Shuttle prime contractor's Houston operation.

"Granted, as a student intern, my initial duties were fairly mundane: posting schedules and lining the walls with charts, assisting engineers with technical graphs and reports," Rahman recalls. "But what a thrill it was!" He was working alongside the engineers in Houston in 1981 at the time of the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1. "That was what got me hooked on the space program, and I've never looked back," he said.

In 1983, while completing his undergraduate studies at Texas A&M, Rahman was nominated by one of his professors to present a student paper at the annual conference of the International Astronautics Federation in Budapest, Hungary. Once more, Rahman found it an odd juxtaposition of circumstances, an Indian citizen representing the United States during the Cold War era at an international conference being held behind the Iron Curtain.

Also in attendance was Hermann Oberth, a German scientist who was one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry and modern astronautics, a natural role model for Rahman. It was a great honor to meet Oberth, Rahman said, and he cherishes two mementoes from that encounter: a photograph of Oberth awarding him the undergraduate competition medal, and his autographed copy of Oberth's ground-breaking 1923 book (in German), "The Rocket into Planetary Space."

Rahman began his professional career in 1985 at The Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, Calif., where he worked as a fluid and thermal analyst on launch vehicle and spacecraft flight programs for the U.S. Air Force. In 1992, he returned to full-time graduate study at Penn State University, State College, Pa., to earn a doctorate in mechanical engineering, with a concentration in rocket propulsion research. From 1997-1998 he worked at TRW Propulsion Research Center in Redondo Beach, Calif., designing and analyzing performance of innovative rocket propulsion devices for civil and military applications.

Rahman began his NASA career at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., in 1998. He served in the Propulsion Test Directorate's engineering division as branch chief of design and analysis, and was later promoted to division chief. In March 2003, he was appointed chief engineer for the Directorate, responsible for technical oversight for one-of-a-kind, world-class rocket test facilities. He also oversees a variety of research and development test projects for next-generation U.S. rocket engines.

Since his college days, his experience with the space program has reinforced his view; NASA draws on the best from around the world.

"There are so many scientists and aerospace experts, German, Hungarian, Chinese, Egyptian, Russian, Lebanese, and many, many more, who worked with NASA once they came to America," Rahman said. "I'm proud of all the people from different countries who have contributed to the space program, not just those from my own native country."

"So often I see engineering and science graduate students looking for an academic advisor and colleagues of the same community and/or ethnicity," Rahman said. "Don't do that. Exposure to a broad spectrum of people and places provides a more enriching, wider perspective, and ultimately a more fulfilling life experience," he said.

Media organizations interested in interviewing Dr. Rahman should contact Paul Foerman, Stennis Space Center Public Affairs, at: 228/688-3341.