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Meet a NASA Glenn Employee: Don Palac
April 22, 2011

Thousands of talented, dedicated and passionate people work at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. They are rocket scientists and engineers. They are researchers and physicists and chemists. They are aviation specialists, public affairs officers, administrative assistants, security officers, logistics managers and more. With countless specializations in myriad fields, the people of Glenn share one goal: working for the public in support of NASA's mission.

The diverse Glenn workforce is comprised of civil servants and on-site support contractors. Workers perform a large variety of different jobs at NASA Glenn. "My Job at NASA Glenn" is a series that introduces some of these workers. Learn about different employees and the interesting jobs they perform, and how their education prepared them to make unique and important contributions to NASA.

Don Palac

Job Title:

Project Manager
Don Palac profileDon Palac
Image Credit: NASA

What that means:
Project managers translate technical work into manageable work packages that can be funded and directed, and that provide specific products.

What I do:
I assist the Fission Power System Project principal investigator, Lee Mason, in bringing to fruition the first-of-a-kind demonstration of multi-kilowatt space nuclear power in the mid-2010s. We plan to use an electrically-heated reactor simulator to perform a non-nuclear demonstration of heat generation, thermal energy conversion and heat rejection, all working together as a system in a space-like environment in one of our large vacuum chambers here at Glenn.

The coolest / most interesting part of my job is:
I assist a variety of incredibly talented and dedicated researchers in advancing the state of the art in all kinds of areas that will benefit future astronauts and space explorers (and probably many others in ways we can't yet imagine).

My favorite project that I have worked, or that I am working on, is:
I have worked on several projects where people have come together as a team and worked shoulder to shoulder to bring about a common dream. Among them were the development of four experiments on the Sojourner Truth Mars Pathfinder Rover; the Rocket-Based Combined Cycle (research into our best shot at using air breathing propulsion to deliver payloads to Earth orbit); the development of a Discovery Science Mission proposal for the two-for-one Diana electric propulsion mission to the moon and a comet (which was the direct ancestor of the current Dawn mission to the asteroids Vesta and Ceres); and the Fission Power Systems project. These teams were made up of people from different centers, agencies, companies and universities, who all worked miracles together under the outstanding leadership of terrific principal investigators.

The accomplishment that I am most proud of is:
As a former branch chief, I created an initiative to connect with the space science community to make them aware of the potential advantages of electric propulsion for solar system exploration. A subsequent collaboration resulted in the first specific proposal to employ electric propulsion on a space science mission, eventually resulting in the Dawn mission and helping to open new capability to explore the solar system using smaller, more powerful spacecraft.

A Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education helped me by:
My education helped me by giving me the solid background in physics and mathematics needed to understand the foundations of advancements in a broad range of technical areas.

Good advice for students, including STEM students, is:
Spend a few extra bucks, if you can, to get new college textbooks that will last, and hang onto them! I sold a few of mine that, years later, I had to re-purchase (at a higher price). No book will be as easy and reliable for you to refer to later in your career as the book from which you first learned the basics. And you'll come back to them over and over again!

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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator