Interview Assessment 4 - Corrie Hunt

 

John Harkins, my last interview, put me in touch with Ms. Hunt. She was his boss during his days working for Boeing’s International Space Station program. I was really excited going into the interview because she is both a female perspective and she specializes in astronautical engineering, which is hard to find. I really wanted her perspective on my original work.

Ms. Hunt recounted her favorite experience in her career. She and her team were working with modules down in Florida and everything went wrong and no one knew how to fix it. They ended up having to work 16-18 hour workdays in order to fix the issue, but Ms. Hunt stated that working with people in order to problem solve - the backbone of engineering - was the most enjoyable experience. She highlighted the importance of teamwork and people skills, skills that are often ignored in stereotypical conceptions of engineering. She encouraged me to value working with others and problem solving, rather than believing I, alone, can solve issues. My love of working with people and socializing as well as my strong skill set in math and physics further encourages me to pursue astronautical engineering. I get to use logic and my fundamentals to problem solve with a close-knit group of people, a perfect environment for me to thrive.

 

Going into the interview, I was undecided on my original work proposal. I was not sure if I wanted to pursue the gender disparity angle or go into the space science sector. Ms. Hunt really helped me gain some insight and pushed me in the direction of space science. She pointed out that many measures have been proposed to get women into STEM, making the area a bit overdone. More importantly, she pointed out that I - as a woman - would be accused of bias and this would call my results and solutions into question.

She helped me brainstorm topics of interest for my original work. After deciding on Mars, we talked about some possible proposals. A really important issue in the journey to Mars is the lack of fuel sources that can facilitate the whole trip. Alternative fuel sources must be explored and nuclear energy is a very controversial possible solution. Nuclear energy is a viable option, but it is very taboo in the aerospace community. Ms. Hunt recommended talking to nuclear scientists and professors before reaching out to any engineers or the Department of Defense because of the taboo nature and my lack of clearance.

Another possible proposal could be an investigation of materials found on spacecrafts, specifically the external shell that is expected to withstand enormous amounts of friction while the craft exits the atmosphere. Additionally, a new shield is placed on top of the spacecraft after the craft enters space. The journey to Mars will be significantly longer than anything attempted before meaning that the shield and external structures need to last that long without being compromised. Material and chemical engineers could provide insight into this issue and talking to them would be beneficial. Ms. Hunt encouraged me to keep in touch with her because her husband works at NASA and may know a few people who have direct exposure to this problem.

The final, and most intriguing issue was the effects of zero gravity on the human body. This seemed to be the biggest concern currently and has wide reaching impacts. Space suits currently do little to negate the impacts of zero gravity on bone and muscle decay. Ms. Hunt gave me the contact information of a woman who can help me with this specific issue. I plan on talking to biochemists and physical therapists because many therapy tools have been adapted from old space suits to help children gain stronger motor functions.

Following the interview, I decided that I am going to pursue the zero gravity topic. My consistent curiosity when it comes to space and facilitating space exploration is captured in this issue. All the insight I gained from talking to Ms. Hunt encouraged me to reach out to professors in fields other than just aerospace to help me with specific aspects of my original work. I plan on following up with both Ms. Hunt and Mr. Harkins, as well as reaching out to Neha Baskar from Liberty to further my knowledge and research. She interned at the Johnson Space Center, so she will most likely have contacts that can help me. This interview really helped me finalize my future research and path in ISM and astronautical engineering.

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