Interview Assessment 3 - John Harkins
I was really excited going into the interview because John Harkins was the first person who was on the astronautical side of engineering, which is precisely what I want to do. I expected to learn about problems plaguing the space program and his perspective on the newly privatized side of space travel. I also planned on gaining his insight into local programs that would expose me to astronautical engineering and expected life advice in general.
The conversation with Mr. Harkins really help me confirm my interest in astronautical engineering. We discussed potential original work topics as well as local programs that could allow me to gain more experience into modern astronautical engineering. The meeting inspired me to goin SWE NEXT - the high school version of the Society of Women Engineers - and apply for summer programs in various universities.
Mr. Harkins recounted on his favorite parts of working on the International Space Station and I found one of them to be particularly interesting. The space station program is very diverse. It requires significant collaboration between foreign powers in order to achieve anything of substance and more importantly this collaboration causes increase cooperation and friendly relations. The widespread and interconnected nature of space exploration also intrigues me. After all, once we leave the planet we are no longer members of sovereign nations, but rather members of the human race. Personally, I thrive off of communication and interaction with people from various backgrounds simply because it is more interesting. This furthered my belief that the space program is my true niche in the large aerospace world.
A connection between my interview with John Harkins and my previous interview with Armstrong Ekpete was the importance of business and people skills in aerospace engineering. People often view it as a very technical field, but teamwork and collaboration is essential to every program. Another recurring topic between all of my interviews was the lack of female interest and/or participation in engineering. Mr Harkins elaborated on the tendency of women to shy away from math and male dominated courses which is essential to success in engineering.
More importantly than the repeating theme of the gender disparity, Mr. Harkins really outlined constant struggles for the space program, especially since the new focus of space travel is Mars. The total trip to Mars is fourteen months, seven there and seven back. This introduces issues such as propulsion and fuel. It is too costly and extremely inefficient, not to mention unsuccessful, to create insanely large fuel tanks to allow for such a far journey. Instead, the focus should be on increasing efficiency and looking into other midway launch sites such as the moon. Evaluating the feasibility of this possible solution would be a very interesting topic to look into for a potential original work project. The length of travel also introduces the issue of zero gravity on the human body. Bone matter and muscles decay at a very fast rate when removed from the gravity of the earth. Astronauts on the moon must exercise significantly amounts in order to retain mass and they only remain in space for six months. Mars is a fourteen month journey complicating this matter exponentially.
Researching the effects of a journey to Mars and developing possible solutions is another potential original work route. Mr. Harkins talked about the struggle he remembers with the size of equipment to repair the ISS. The equipment was very large scale and took up significant space and weighed a massive amount, especially the antennae. Researching ways to redesign antennae can decrease the cost of space travel especially when you take into account the lack of an American space program forcing the nation rely on old Soviet shuttles and private spacecrafts such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 are simply too small to carry the large, antiquated antennae. Collapsible and deployable antenna designs are possible solutions that I could also investigate.
The significant knowledge I gained about the space sector of aerospace engineering has left me obsessed with learning more and a desire to talk to even more astronautical professionals. I plan on following up with Mr. Harkins to gain his contacts from his Boeing and NASA days because professionals currently working in the space field would be extremely beneficial to my ISM journey. Following this interview, I really feel like astronautical engineering is for me and I feel more motivated to be on the frontier of space travel than ever.