( Fanny has recently started working on a new project that involves developing a computer simulation of the docking maneuver between the space shuttle and space station. Her profile will be updated soon.)
I am an aerospace engineer working in the Applied Aerodynamics Division at NASA-Ames Research Center. I basically work as a research engineer and spend most of my time conducting experiments and studying data to help build better airplanes and space vehicles. I have been an aerospace engineer at NASA for almost 10 years and over that time have worked on a variety of projects.
I am currently working on the High-Speed Research project where our goal is to build a new High-Speed Civil Transport. This new airplane will be a supersonic commercial transport which promises to carry up to 300 passengers and fly at Mach 2.4 across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in about half the time of today's commercial transports. My role on this project is to help develop and test new high-lift technology for this airplane that will ensure good performance during the takeoff, approach and landing phases of its flight. I work as the project director for the low-speed wind-tunnel tests that happen here at Ames and I am responsible for evaluating the high-lift performance of the airplane models that are tested.
There are several stages to my work. First, I need to do some research and learn about high-lift systems (slats and flaps) that have been used in the past on other supersonic and subsonic airplanes. I then make suggestions and recommendations for what we should test and what I think will work on the latest airplane design. Next I put together a plan for a wind-tunnel test. This takes a lot of organization and communication between the model designers and model makers, test engineers and researchers, mechanics and technicians. I then am very involved in the test and evaluating the data during the test to ensure we are recording accurate information.
After the test, I spend a lot of time studying the data and trying to understand why or why not the high-lift devices did or didn't work. I then report the results to the rest of the team and finally it's on to thinking about what we should test next and I start the whole process over again. The reason we keep testing is because at the same time the airplane design keeps changing to meet the needs of the other technical groups. There are several other groups that also want to change the airplane so that their engine, wing, material, etc., will work better. It takes a lot of organization skill to make for a successful test, but most importantly it takes the math and science skills of many talented professionals to ensure a successful airplane design.
An average day for me depends on what stage of the test the team is in. My day is never boring. There are always unexpected and sometimes complicated problems to resolve. It can be very challenging at times to try to keep everything organized and running smoothly. However, it is very rewarding to know your work is contributing to a national project that will make supersonic travel available to everyone and at the same time bring economic prosperity to our country. It's also especially rewarding to know that you are making a contribution to science from the knowledge gained from your experiments.
Since I was very young, I always loved math and science. And as long as I can remember I always wanted to work for NASA. I fell in love with NASA and the space program back in the days of the Apollo lunar program. Ever since then it was always my dream to work for such an honorable and prestigious organization and to make my own contribution to science and space exploration some day. However, I knew it wasn't going to be easy to achieve my dreams. I had many obstacles and barriers to overcome first.
I grew up in a single-parent family which had just immigrated to this country from Latin America so I had language difficulties, cultural barriers and financial difficulties to overcome. From where I grew up, my dreams really seemed far-fetched and unrealistic. Most people around me did not offer a lot of encouragement to me either. Fortunately, I was self-motivated enough to work extremely hard and earn a four-year academic scholarship to Syracuse University where I earned a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering. After graduation, I was extremely fortunate enough to land my first engineering job at NASA. I have since then earned a master of science degree in aerospace engineering from USC and am currently working on my Ph.D. degree at Stanford University.
I am still working very hard to realize my ultimate dream to become an astronaut. Last year, I was chosen as a finalist for the Astronaut Candidate program and was invited to go to Johnson Space Center-Houston and try out with a group of about 100 finalists. Although I did not make the final cut that year, it was an unbelievable accomplishment and experience for me. It was a dream I thought I never would come close to achieving. It is truly incredible what you can achieve when you pour your heart and soul into it. I will definitely keep trying out for the Astronaut Corps and do whatever it takes for however long it may take to one day achieve this dream of mine.
My advice to you is to never, ever give up on your dreams no matter how unrealistic they may appear to be. You must always believe in yourself and be committed to doing whatever it takes to achieve even the impossible. Remember you owe it to yourself to find your special talent and this will be your special gift to the world.
Dr. Fanny Zuniga
Aerospace Research Engineer