I know a real rocket scientist.

His name is Russell Sargent and the first spacecraft he worked on, called Cygnus, recently arrived at the international space station. He built the guidance and some of the navigation software for demos 3 through 5, and also helped to design the approach trajectory in the last figure shown here. The mission went very successfully, and now leaves NASA with a cheaper alternative to bring cargo into space. Very cool.

I talked with Russell about his current project: the Dream Chaser, a new commercial mini-space shuttle.  He’s building the autopilot during entry and training astronautics how to fly it  in the NASA simulator. 

Q: Is this is as cool as it looks?!
A: Yes it is!
Q: Is it designed to look like a giant whale, or is that coincidence?
A: To me it looks like a tug boat, but point taken.  It is a strange looking thing.
Q: Your company does this in partnership with NASA, right?
A: We work for a private company, Sierra Nevada Corp (not the beer company).  SNC will be payed per astronaut to go to Space Station.  Its a private-public partnership.  I work for a non for profit lab.  (My tufts roots are showing here.)  The idea is for NASA to hire companies for low Earth orbit travel to reduce costs.   Unlike my other jobs all my work will be owned by SNC when I’m done, not the government.
Q: I thought NASA was done sending people into space.
A: Nope! Two programs: the private-public partnership and MPCV Orion capsule.  This capsule built by NASA will take astronauts to asteroids and possibly the moon.
Q:  What’d you get to do as copilot?!
A: I got to be wingman (i.e. Goose in top gun) in the sim to several astronauts and teach them to fly the tug boat.  My only official function was to drop the landing gear.  I got to see what they liked disliked for my next redesign.  I work with astronautics Steven ‘Pinto’ Lindsey and Lee ‘Bru’ Archambault .  Most if them live in Houston so to the astronauts I’m the ‘Boston kid’ with the accent.

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