- Posted June 3, 2011 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Your best or worst summer jobs
Space Shuttle Engineer
Many people have had the privilege to watch a shuttle launch, but how many people have had the chance to work on the shuttle itself? I can now count myself as one of the lucky ones. I was just another aerospace engineering student at the University of Illinois when I applied to become an intern at Hamilton Sundstrand in Rockford, IL. Getting an engineering internship is difficult considering the tough competition. Luckily for me, I was accepted. On my first day, several other interns and I were led around the engineering plant to be paired off with our respective engineers, with whom we’d be working with every day. At some point, the staff leading us around paused, realized that there was a mix up, and told me that I could not join my original engineering team, which was focused on a military project. They asked me if I would be o.k. with working with the Space Shuttle Team. I tried to hold back my shock and enthusiasm as I uttered, “Yes.”
Over the course of the next few weeks, I learned that this small team is responsible for readying the rudder speed brake, body flap actuators, and auxiliary power units for future shuttle missions. These critical shuttle subsystems ensure the carefully controlled descent of the orbiter as it returns to earth. The many tasks involved in preparing the subsystems for their next launch include: receiving, disassembling, cleaning, reassembling, testing, and shipping. As an intern, I witnessed the entire cycle and actually participated in several of the activities. Some of my many responsibilities included inspecting parts for corrosion, inspecting bolt threads for burs, and ensuring that the proper hardware was in place for next assembly. The coolest parts of the job were watching the many tests that were being performed. I’ve seen the actuators being “actuated”; and I even witnessed a hydroproof test, which is a test wherein the vessel is pressurized with water to demonstrate that it can withstand the pressures seen during real operation.
While I received instruction and guidance for my tasks, I was soon able to work independently. The engineers there treated me like I was a part of their team and not just someone who would be leaving in a few months. It’s been 8 years since I’ve had that internship, but I remember it well. If this internship doesn’t inspire aerospace engineers, I don’t know what will!
Today, I am an engineer developing NASA’s multi-purpose crew vehicle (“Orion”), which will replace the space shuttle program. Thank you, Shuttle Team, for the experience. I hope you don’t mind refurbishing Orion parts in a few years.