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  • Writer's pictureBalamir Sahin

Interview with John L. Junkins, Professor at Texas A&M University


1. Please tell us more about who you are.

"Professor of Aerospace Engineering. I began work as a sophomore at Auburn University, alternating quarters at NASA until I completed my BS in 1965. Working on the Apollo program so early was highly motivating."

2. Why did you want to become an aerospace engineer?

'Listening to President John Kennedy in 1961 when he laid out the “Apollo Quest”.'

3. Can you describe your work during the time that you’ve been in NASA?

"I worked on stabilizing the attitude and vibration of the Saturn vehicle in the presence of coupling between vehicle vibration, engine dynamics and propellant slosh. A vibration along the vehicle axis known as “pogo” was a crucial problem that had to be solved, otherwise the vehicle vibration would be life-threatening."

4. What are some of the experiences that shaped your career during your employment in McDonnell-Douglas?

"I designed launch trajectories for about a dozen space launches and did the research underlying my UCLA dissertation on how to optimize space vehicle trajectories."

5. You completed your B.A.E in 1965. Over the years what are the major changes in trends that you observed in aerospace engineering?

"Many dramatic changes: 1. Computer technology, 2 develop of sensor technologies, 3. Development of advanced carbon fiber materials, 4. Development of navigation systems, esp GPS, 5. Development of solar power systems and autonomous systems concepts that allow deep space missions lasting decades."

6. What has been your toughest accomplishment so far in your career?

"Learning how to do careful and intense thinking to (try to) consider all possible ways a system can be designed as failure-proof as possible, and when the system flies to rapidly consider contingencies to mitigate unanticipated problems as they arise. Space vehicles are difficult to adequately test on the ground and almost every mission has some anomaly arise --- it is inherently exciting."

7. To high schoolers like me and to younger generations that want to become aerospace engineers, what would be your advice to be successful in this career? "Develop skill in math and science. Choose a top 20 university to pursue and undergraduate degree, likely on in your state to make it more affordable with in-state tuition. During your undergraduate years, try to gain some practical experience as a summer employee."

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