NASA People

Center Snapshot: Kurian Thomas
Kurian Thomas. Image above: Kurian Thomas supports the VASTS "Getting There Team" while Michael Sutherland listens closely. Photo Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Sasha Congiu

It's like Kurian Thomas has never left NASA Langley.

"I have grown up in the NASA family. I went to day care here at Langley and attended the NASA Langley lunar summer camp for five years," Thomas said. "At a young age, my parents have instilled into me the motivation to work hard. I have learned a lot just watching them."

That motivation is why he is in Langley’s DEVELOP program, in which he is working on the Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerators (IAD) project. His resume includes time spent as a member of the first Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars (VASTS) program, in 2008.

Thomas is among the first VASTS alumni to hold a Langley internship.

His mom, Susan Thomas, who is part of the Radiation Sciences branch in the Science Directorate at Langley, working for Science Systems and Applications, has helped him learn about what goes on at NASA. He learned about engineering from his dad, who is a mechanical engineer at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Thomas has given speeches about the VASTS program, including during General Assembly Day and at a VASTS luncheon.

"I was pretty nervous in the beginning to give a speech to several important people," Thomas said. "But overall, it was an awesome experience, a great way to express my appreciation for the VASTS program, and how it has been very important in a lot of the decisions I have made.

"Through this program and its interactive activities, I learned so much about NASA and the amazing things that they are developing and planning for the future. It really got me interested in the exploration side of NASA, and I wanted to be part of this ground-breaking technology in the future."

The VASTS program, which includes planning a mission to Mars, played another role in his future.

"It was the main reason I pursued an internship here and ultimately decided to major in mechanical engineering at the University of Virginia," Thomas said.

Participating in the VASTS program started his enthusiasm for NASA. Thomas has worked with the DEVELOP program at Langley for three terms, the spring and summer of 2009 and now, the summer 2010 term, with the same mentors, Amanda Cutright and Brendan Shaughnessy, in the Mechanical Systems Branch.

During his first term he worked with the Orion Flight Test Articles (FTA) Mass Properties team, which resulted in Thomas contributing to a successful Pad Abort 1 (PA-1) of the Launch Abort System (LAS).

Now he's part of the DEVELOP Engineering team. In working on the Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerators (IAD) project, the team reviewed past flights and researched future tests. Their task is to come up with a design for a testing fixture that will hold the full scale IAD in place.

When he began his internship, he was encouraged by the approachability of his mentors.

"I could ask questions and learn quickly, and this provided a great, friendly working environment for me," Thomas said. "It is also an honor to work with so many knowledgeable people, and I have become a better engineering student because of it."

When working on his various projects, Thomas feels a great sense of accomplishment and pride.

"It is cool to know that the projects we work on have the potential to be a guiding force in future space missions," he said. "It is an awesome feeling to know that our work benefits the overall goal to get us back to the moon and beyond."

He plans to complete his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in aerospace engineering and business. In addition, he hopes to attend graduate school.

Thomas’s career goal is to become an aerospace engineer in the aerospace field with NASA and hopes to impact others the way he has been impacted. He also hopes to become part of a team of engineers that develops the space vehicles that can send humans back to the moon and on to Mars.

"It will be great to be part of the first human mission to Mars, and everything I learned through the VASTS experience will become a reality," Thomas said. "This is a long-term dream of mine and hopefully one day it can come true."