Welcome back, Sci Chic fans! April's theme is Engineering, and we're happy to bring your another installment in our STEM Star interview series!
This month's STEM Star comes with an impressive resume. She has a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, she's a Ph. D. candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder, and to top it all off, she's a lady rocket scientist! So, without further ado, here's our interview with the one, the only, Miss Aerospace!
After completing a degree in Aerospace Engineering, one might think to take it easy for a while, but Marielle Pellegrino is more than just a rocket scientists (as if that wasn't enough). Her passions extend far beyond the field of engineering, which drove her to create Missaerospace.com, a website dedicated to helping us all develop a deeper understanding of everything going on in the night's sky. But enough chit chat, let's get right to the interview!
1. Can you describe what an aerospace engineer studies and what you do on a daily basis?
Aerospace Engineers study a wide variety of topics ranging from propulsion to structures to guidance navigation and control with a variety of applications, including rockets, planes and satellites. While that is a wide spread, I am particularly concerned with Guidance Navigation and Control (which is the flight software) because I study astrodynamics, or how things move in space. On a daily basis, I run simulations to find patterns and then derive (using good ol' Math) why the satellite [object in space] is behaving the way it is.
2. When did you first find you had an interest in science?
I was looking through one of my brothers hand me down books “My First Book of Space.” I thought it was so fascinating and have been in love since. Ironically, my brother after reading that same book, said he hated space so the book became something that was very much my own.
3. What are some new developments in engineering as a whole, and aerospace engineering, specifically, that you are excited about?
What isn’t there to be excited about? I am definitely excited about self-driving cars mainly because I hate parallel parking. Additionally, I would feel much more comfortable knowing that the person on their phone next to me isn’t also in charge of operating the vehicle. But who cares about safety? Parallel parking is the worst. Am I right? All jokes aside, self-driving cars are at the top of my list.
Something in aerospace that I am excited about is artificial gravity on spacecraft (like in Space Odyssey, Interstellar, the Martian… I could just keep going). One of the main issues preventing the development of that technology is your vestibular system would disorient you once you turn your head in those rotating environments. However, one of my good friends at CU is studying whether people’s vestibular systems can adapt to these rotations which would open up the can of worms of artificial gravity. Side note: I was tempted to say reusable rockets but it felt a little too predictable and we can’t have that.
4. What is your favorite project you have gotten to work on during your career?
Tough question! I am currently studying the movement of space debris which is really interesting and challenging in that it forces me to get in deep into math and derivations. But I am not going to lie: blowing up a mock satellite to see how it would disassemble upon impact in space was pretty cool too.
5. What advice would you give to young kids interested in STEM? Where could they go to learn more about your field?
Get involved in some after school activities in things you are interested in even when your friends aren’t. I know it can be really scary to join a new group not knowing anyone but once you make that first leap you can get really involved in some cool stuff! There are also a lot of great resources online. NASA Kids’ Club has a lot of fun games. So does PBS Kids which has a wider variety of science/engineering games. Kerbal Space Program lets you make your own space program (from building the spacecraft to flying it) and they have a free demo.
6. Why did you start Miss Aerospace and what have you learned during the process?
After graduating from college, I looked back at my time there and thought about what I would have told myself coming into the experience. I also thought of the fun things I learned while at college, including how to spot the International Space Station and where/when to watch for meteors. I wanted to break down some of the misconceptions by giving high schoolers and people outside the field a point of access. For me, the most rewarding part throughout the process has been interacting with my followers. I get so many questions dealing with those misconceptions I talked about and it is very gratifying to set the record straight and help set someone on the path to STEM who originally thought it wasn’t for them or felt like they were struggling to get into their stride the first couple years of college. Something I hadn’t originally intended when I started my blog was being very open about the personal struggles I am facing as they occur. But after managing my website for a couple years, I know that there are a lot of people out there who will relate to it and need to hear that they are not alone.
7. What are your plans for your future in your career?
I am still trying to figure out how to work on an interplanetary mission from Miami but once I do I will let you know. For the near future, I am planning on working on space debris mitigation and spacecraft design optimization by incorporating solar radiation pressure. Meaning, using the Sun’s particles to push space debris into particular orbits (no one wants a Gravity situation to happen) and using the Sun’s particles to stabilize orbits about the Moon and asteroids.