Center Snapshot - Student, David Gerhardt and Mentor, Tom Jones
Jones and Gerhardt.
Image above: Tom Jones and his summer student, David Gerhardt, are in front of their programmetric experiment for the Ares I rocket. Credit: Rachel C. Samples

From pushing buttons for the Spiderman ride at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. to working at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., David Gerhardt has had many diverse summer experiences.

This summer, Gerhardt is part of Langley Research Center's division of the NASA Undergraduate Student Researchers Program (NASA-USRP). He is under the guidance of Tom Jones, applied research electrical engineer. The NASA-USRP program is one of the many ways college students can gain mentored research experience in various positions. The students are also provided with a $5,000 stipend for the 10-week summer.

Gerhardt is a rising senior at Virginia Tech. With a strong interest in space, it is easy to guess that Gerhardt is majoring in aerospace engineering. Gerhardt's research at NASA Langley is expanding on his studies and future interest.

"I perform photogrammetric simulation for the Ares I rocket, in preparation for the launch test in April 2009," said Gerhardt. "Our goal is to determine if there is adequate clearance for the upper stage nozzle during first stage separation."

Jones greatly appreciates Gerhardt's involvement in the project.

"David has provided an insightful perspective into the simulation work being performed to support flight experiments," said Jones. "I hope he will feel that his efforts have been rewarded when he sees Ares I-X take flight. The infusion of youthful thinking from students like David is very much what NASA needs to reach our goals in space exploration."

Jones and his current work on the Ares I-X is inspiring for Gerhardt.

"Looking back, it was probably hours of watching Star Trek with my dad as a kid," said Gerhardt. "Combine that with my childhood of playing with LEGOs and reading Star Wars books and you've got me."

Outside of school, Gerhardt likes to play Texas hold-em and racquetball.

"Racquetball is my favorite sport and the Hokies are most assuredly my team," said Gerhardt. "One day I will beat my father in racquetball. He's retired, plays every day, and is only getting better."

As in most sports, racquetball teaches many lessons in life. Gerhardt uses a racquetball analogy to explain his favorite thing about himself.

"I can roll with life's punches," said Gerhardt. "Yesterday, I got beat in racquetball by a 12-year-old who was very good for his age."

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Rachel C. Samples
The Researcher News