National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Michael Johnston


Case Western Reserve UniversityMichael Johnston

Cleveland, OH
M.S. in Mechanical Engineering & Aerospace Engineering (In Progress)
B.S. in Mechanical Engineering

State University of New York at Fredonia
Fredonia, NY
B.S. in Physics

NASA Academy Research Project:

Growth and Extinction Limits on Solids

Principle Investigator:

Dr. Sandra Olson


Fredonia, NY


I believe that if you are never failing, then you cannot possibly hope to reach to reach your potential. We should always be trying to explore the edges of possibility. When we were children, we were told stories of the thousands of times Thomas Edison failed while inventing the modern light bulb. But growing up, we tend to mitigate risk and choose alternatives with known outcomes. As an example, we sometimes choose our classes based on how it will affect our grade point average, rather than what we are capable of learning.

In the last decade, culture at NASA has also fallen in to a risk adverse slump, spurred on by public outrage after media portrayals of multi-million dollar failures. Unfortunately, media reports are usually biased towards creating exciting and shocking television, and too often fail to depict the amazing accomplishments achieved alongside NASA’s mistakes.

In the earlier days of the space program, we were able to go from barely breaking the sound barrier to landing on the moon in an extremely short period of time. But a quick search of the internet yields video compilations of a huge number of rocket failures and crashes during this experimental era. It seems that our country was at one time, willing to accept risks, and willing to fail, in order to progress our boundaries science.

Through better communication with the public, we can help showcase NASA’s great accomplishments, i.e., the lunar landing, the Mars rovers, the Hubble Deep Field Image, the construction of the International Space Station, and the detection of ice on the moon. With all of this in perspective, we can better show that NASA should fail when pushing the envelope of understanding, but with the failure will come our greatest accomplishments.

Academics and Research

I hold a bachelor of science in physics from the State University of New York at Fredonia, and a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University. After receiving my bachelor degrees, I worked as an intern conducting research on catalytic micro-combustion reactors at NASA Glenn Research Center. I then returned to Case Western, where I am currently working on my Master of Science in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

My master thesis involves research in ignition, growth, and extinction of flames on solid fuels in normal and low gravity environments. The end goal is to validate computer simulations of combustion events utilizing an extremely high fidelity model developed by our group. The studies can be greatly simplified by removing buoyancy effects from the flame region in both the model and experiment. This can be accomplished by conducting the experimental studies in the zero gravity environments which only NASA can offer.


I engage in a huge assortment of hobbies. There is always something new to learn or do. I am an avid music fan. I play guitar and attempt to play the piano whenever I can. Before returning to school for my Master’s, I decided to learn electronic design and repair, including the programming of microcontrollers. Repairing digital cameras has led to my most recent hobby of photography. I almost always carry my SLR with me, since you never know when a great picture will present itself. I also enjoy jogging and cycling whenever I have time.

Future Objectives

After completion of my master thesis, I will go on to obtain my doctoral degree. Since I have already done a great deal of experimental work, I hope my next project will involve more theoretical computer modeling. Working as a post doctorate student seems to be standard procedure now, but after that is complete, I would like to either work as a NASA civil servant, or continue in the academic and research field as a university professor.