Home is Where the Stars are

Michael Bomburg spends his nights skateboarding at a local park, playing Halo online with friends and preparing dinosaur chicken nuggets for dinner – his routine resembles that of any normal human.  But by day, Michael fills a role that many only dream of: he’s a rocket scientist.

Q: Growing up, what interested you about space?

A: I think that it’s the idea of the unknown and what that does for my imagination.  There’s a mystery about outer space that you can’t find on Earth. Earth just seems so familiar, and the curtains are so easy to pull back that it kills the imagination. The preconceived notions of a place on earth can be confirmed or shattered by stepping on a plane or opening a book. But the universe is so large and the possibilities so endless that it lets the imagination run wild.

Q: Before applying to college, did you need to show that you were capable of being an “aerospace engineer”?

A: No, the college application process was pretty superficial. Though, I believe that capability is based on passion – passion for the subject matter is why I excelled.

Q: Did you have an internship while you were in college?

A: I interned at the NASA Langley Research Center. NASA does a great job at letting your creativity drive a design or concept.  In that sort of environment, new ideas are fostered much better than in the private industry. One thing I was told there that always stuck with me is “it’s everyone else’s job to tell us why something is impossible, and it’s our job to show them why they are wrong”.

Q: Where did you land after you graduated?

A: My first job was as a propulsion engineer – which involves designing ways to propel satellites – at a company called Space Systems Loral in California. “Propulsion engineer” is one of those positions where you wear a lot of hats.  Some days I was at a desk improving some of our daily responsibilities, but a few weeks out of the year I worked mission control during satellite orbit launches.  But now I’ve now moved on from that job and work as a quality assurance engineer in Europe.  This position exposes me to far greater number of our spacecraft parts with new sets of problems to solve.

Q: How does it make you feel knowing that your work is being used?

A: What I do helps to make the world smaller. What I mean by this is that everyone is able to talk to friends and family on the other side of the planet without any delay because of the technology that I support.  I think that’s pretty neat.

Q: Down the road, where do you see yourself?

A: Ideally, somewhere in deep space. Otherwise I would like to be an active participant in manned spaceflight programs, Mission Director would be nice.

 

* Name has been changed as the interviewee wished to remain anonymous

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Russia Strong-arms US in Space Race

Now that tensions are high over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Republic of Crimea, Russia is threatening to cease US access to the International Space Station (ISS).  Additionally, Russia plans to ban the US from purchasing rocket engines used to launch military satellites into space.  This strategic political move comes in response to the US’s sanctions limiting exports to Russia.  After the US Space Shuttle stopped operating in 2011, the only existing mode of traveling to the ISS is Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, putting the power of the space race back in Russia’s hands.  No one is quite sure how Russia will pull off its vow to stop carrying US astronauts to the ISS via Soyuz once 2020 rolls around.  An alternative to the Space Shuttle, the SpaceX manned Dragon craft, is the most likely candidate since NASA’s Orion would not be ready for launch until 2021.

This decision comes at the tail end of a larger effort to revamp Russia’s space exploration efforts.  President Vladimir Putin recently signed a declaration to split the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) into two, forming a new organization.  The state-run United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) will be in charge of rocket and space equipment production, including the development, creation, testing, technical servicing and utilization of military equipment, rockets and their components.  On the other hand, Roscosmos will maintain the state contract, coordination and operation of its research institutes and ground infrastructures.  By creating two institutions, Russia hopes to streamline production and improve quality control, putting an end to disastrous situations like last July’s proton rocket crash.  Space related initiatives have received negative feedback in the past from the Russian Audit Chamber because the industry spends four times more than the global average on poor quality technology.  Nonetheless, Russia still plans to pursue up to five lunar missions between 2015 and 2020 to examine the Moon’s surface resources.