Who's Who at NASA

Donald Wegel, Lead Engineer, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

Donald Wegel, Lead Engineer, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Maryland are in the early stages of designing a sample-collecting comet harpoon. NASA Goddard’s Donald Wegel, lead engineer on the project, will work with researchers to send a spacecraft to rendezvous with the comet, and then fire a harpoon to acquire samples from specific locations. NASA Tech Briefs: Why sample comets? What can we learn from comets? Don Wegel: Comets are early remnants of the solar system’s formation and might give us clues to the possible origins of life on Earth. They have some of the building blocks of life and could contain the primordial ooze of where we came from.  Also, comets and asteroids are potential threats for the Earth, so to understand them better may help us find the best solution to avoid their impact.

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Dr. Bruce Wielicki, Senior Earth Scientist, Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA

Dr. Bruce Wielicki, senior Earth scientist within the Science Directorate at Langley Research Center, works as lead of the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) mission. The Tier-1 earth science decadal survey initiative will anchor a future climate observing system.

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Sam Ortega, Program Manager, NASA Centennial Challenges, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL

Sam Ortega, manager of the NASA Centennial Challenges Program, leads progressive aerospace initiatives, encouraging the participation of independent teams, individual inventors, student groups, and private companies. Most recently, the program’s Green Flight Challenge awarded the largest prize in aviation history.NASA Tech Briefs:  What is the Green Flight Challenge? Sam Ortega: The Green Flight Challenge was our biggest challenge ever conducted. The purpose was to really push the innovation levels for green aviation itself. We wanted teams to manufacture or build an aircraft that would have the efficiency of a [Toyota] Prius; that would get 200 passenger miles per gallon of gas or gas equivalent; and would be as fast as a Corvette. It would also have to fly at 100 mph.  Prior airplanes only had the efficiency of 40 passenger miles per gallon, as opposed to the 200 that we were trying to shoot for.

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Dr. Robert Okojie, Research Electronics Engineer, NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland OH

Dr. Robert Okojie, Research Electronics Engineer at the NASA Glenn Research Center, develops harsh-environment microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Okojie currently processes, fabricates, tests, and packages silicon carbide pressure sensors, accelerometers, and fuel injectors.  NASA Tech Briefs:  What kinds of work have you done with MEMS, particularly the silicon carbide sensors?Dr. Robert Okojie: I have focused on the area of MEMS-based pressure sensors using silicon carbide, which allows us to extend the operational capability of the pressure sensor from the conventional silicon pressure sensors that operate around 200 °C. We are looking at applying MEMS–based silicon carbide pressure sensors in temperatures that exceed 600 °C.

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William Allen, Senior Engineer, Spacecraft Mechanical Engineering Section, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

William Allen, senior engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is the mechanical systems design lead on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), NASA’s biggest, most expensive, and most capable Mars rover. The rover is set to launch in November 2011.NASA Tech Briefs:  NASA is gearing up for the Mars Science Laboratory to launch in late November. Can you set the stage for us? What is the mission?William Allen: The Mars Science Laboratory is our next rover that we’re sending to Mars. It’s significantly more capable and massive than the previous rovers that we’ve sent up. It’s nuclear-powered, so we won’t have some of the challenges that we’ve had with solar power. It’s designed to be a science laboratory versus the predecessors that were more like mobile geologists. This’ll actually be a mobile science laboratory. There are 10 instruments on board to facilitate that.

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Phil McAlister, Acting Director of Commercial Spaceflight Development, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC

Phil McAlister, acting director of commercial spaceflight development, oversees the efforts of the Commercial Crew Development and Cargo programs. The dual initiatives spur efforts within the private sector to boost human spaceflight capabilities.NASA Tech Briefs: As NASA’s acting director of commercial spaceflight development, what are your day-to-day responsibilitiesPhil McAlister: My primary responsibility is to advise the mission directorate associate administrator on issues pertaining to design, development, and demonstration of NASA’s commercial spaceflight development efforts. Those efforts currently consist of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, which is being managed out of the Kennedy Space Center, and the Commercial Cargo project, which is managed out of Johnson Space Center (JSC).Those two activities are in very different phases of their lifecycle. The Commercial Cargo project has been ongoing for about five years now, and it’s at the tail end of its development activity. We hope to have flights to the International Space Station by both of our partners, SpaceX [Space Exploration Technologies Corp.] and Orbital Sciences Corp., by the end of this year. By contrast, the Commercial Crew program is just starting out. As such, it requires much more of my attention on a day-to-day basis. Right now, I’m focused on the acquisition strategy associated with the Commercial Crew program. I also manage a small staff here at headquarters to assist in those efforts.

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Dr. Lin Chambers, Project Scientist, NASA Langley Science Directorate, Hampton, VA

Dr. Lin Chambers is Project Scientist in the Innovations in Global Climate Change Education program. The congressionally mandated project, initiated in 2008, awards grants to institutions that educate communities about climate science. The group develops resources to help others better understand and explain the causes and effects of climate change.

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