NASA Academy at Ames Research Center

An interview with Max Fagin

Max is a double major in physics and astronomy from Vassar College, though he studies engineering here at Dartmouth. He graduated from Vassar last year in 2010 and spent the summer at Ames's NASA Academy. In addition to science and engineering, max loves participating in theater and can sometimes be persuaded to go kiteboarding.


Describe your research project and responsibilities.

The NASA Academy at Ames accepts around 15 students from around the world for a 10-week completely immersive NASA experience. Participants come from a variety of disciplines, including engineering, physics, computer science, medicine, biology and chemistry. Each student is paired with a researcher at Ames. During this period, the student is totally immersed in NASA, learning how to work in and with the NASA structure. All the students live together, attending lectures and seminars delivered by NASA staff during the work day. On weekends students are sent on excursions to other space related centers. In addition to all these day activities, the students complete a group project, the focus and scale of which is left up to the group.

I am working with the center director, Pete Worden. The recent lunar impacting mission, LCROSS, was done under his purview, and he now wants to try the same kind of mission structure to impact Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. It is my job to adapt LCROSS to this new goal, confronting the various problems in engineering, mission planning, and trajectories that stem from adapting the mission. My tasks include working out optimal flight trajectories, selecting instrumentation, payload architecture and funding.

Did you get to tour the other research facilities on base? Ames Research Center, courtesy

Yes, along with various other NASA facilities all over the country. NASA Academy is not only or even predominantly about research. It is more about becoming immersed in NASA and learning how the agency operates. To that end, we are being given tours of JPL, Dryden, Cape Canaveral, and Johnson. We are also being taken on tours of non-NASA science centers like SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center) and SpaceX.

Who else was involved in your project? Did you have the opportunity to work with other students?

There are 14 students (11 American, 3 international) in the NASA Academy class this year. The program is overseen by alumni who completed the academy in previous years, and administered by scientists and researchers at NASA Ames.

What kinds of social events were there?

All 14 students live and eat together on an off base long term housing unit. Mountain View, CA has a lot of restaurants nearby, and we make use of them whenever we can.

Describe your living situation.

We all live in suits at a very well furnished long term housing facility, with access to a pool and gym. If only we had time to use them :)

What was your favorite part about working at Ames?

The facilities, and the people who run them.

What was your most memorable experience?

Buzz Aldrin walking into my office to chat.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to join the aerospace industry on whatever path (NASA or otherwise) that gets humans to Mars the quickest.


Above: Ames Research Center, courtey