It is rocket science! NASA chief engineer makes shuttles go Martin Desmarais
STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. - NASA's Shamin Rahman knew he wanted to be a rocket scientist ever since he was 6 years old in 1969 and watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
"That is when the thought triggered in my mind: Wouldn't it be neat to be part of the team that made that happen," he said.
Now, he is living out the job of his dreams.
Rahman is the chief engineer for NASA's rocket-propulsion testing at The John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
Stennis is one of 10 NASA field centers in the United States. However, it is NASA's main center for testing rocket-propulsion systems for the space shuttle and future space vehicles.
What this means is, when we see a space shuttle rocketing into space, Rahman and his crew made it happen.
This also means that when questions arise about testing the rockets, all ears turn to Rahman.
"There is a lot there," he said. "But I can usually answer most questions."
At Stennis, about 100 NASA employees work on rocket-propulsion testing and another 1,000 contractors support their activities.
Stennis also houses NASA's Earth Science Applications Directorate and a number of federal, state, academic and private organizations engaged in space, oceans, environmental and national defense programs. All told about 4,400 people work at Stennis.
According to Rahman, his engineers focus on three types of testing on a dozen or more kinds of rockets. The first is early work on future concepts for rockets. The second is testing of prototypes from these conceptualizations. The third is testing of the flight engines that are ready to go on the space shuttles.
This last step is the all-important OK before space flight - all the space shuttle's main rocket engines must pass a series of test firings at Stennis prior to being installed as part of the space shuttles.
For Rahman, working with NASA was the pinnacle of a life-long rise that is not lost on him.
Rahman began his career at NASA and Stennis in 1998. He was first a branch chief of design and analysis and later became a division chief. He rose to chief engineer in March of this year.
"It was a pleasure to join up," he said. "(NASA) is a family I am proud to be in."
As a schoolboy in India, Rahman never lost sight of the dream he gained watching Armstrong plant the American flag on the moon. He nurtured his interest in aerospace while studying science in boarding school in Madras.
In 1979, at the age of 16, he came to the United States to pursue a career in aerospace engineering by attending Texas A&M University.
To his surprise, he was admitted into a summer program after his freshman year between Texas A&M and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Through this program he worked for the space shuttle's scheduling-support office at Rockwell International Corp. In this way, he worked alongside engineers in 1981 at the time of the first space shuttle mission.
"I came here thinking I would probably work on airplanes," Rahman said. "I didn't think I would have the opportunity to work in space."
"I was just thinking airplanes would be close enough for me," he added.
There was more than just airplanes in the cards for Rahman. However, his dream of continuing to work with NASA didn't materialize as quickly after college as it had during his school days.
After graduating from Texas A&M in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering, Rahman tried to get into NASA's ranks - even applying to become an astronaut - but things didn't work out at that time.
Instead he took a job with The Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, Calif., where he worked as a fluid and thermal analyst on launch-vehicle and spacecraft-flight programs for the U.S. Air Force.
In 1992, he returnd to full-time study and earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering with a concentration in rocket propulsion research from Pennsylvania State University.
When he left Penn State in 1997 he joined TRW Propulsion Research Center in Redondo Beach, Calif.
A year later, he moved on to NASA.
Rahman said he has always admired NASA's openess to employ engineers and scientists from all over the world and with all different backgrounds who all have one thing in common - the "desire and passion to advance space technology."
"I like to think of NASA as a worldwide organization to benefit the world," he added.