West Virginia University
Dual Bachelor of Science in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, December 2011
NASA Academy Research Project:
Cryogenic Feed Line Thermal Modeling
David W. Plachta
East Granby, CT
Since I was young, I have been fascinated with aviation and spaceflight. Growing up I was fortunate enough to be exposed to the different facets of aerospace engineering; from airplanes to spacesuits. My hometown borders an international airport and watching the jets take-off and land was just one of our ways to pass some time. A few summers, I attended a day camp at the New England Air Museum where I was able to learn about aviation history and also see classic aircrafts up-close-and-personal. My interest in spaceflight was strongly influenced by my mother. Working for a company who supplied NASA with an array of different equipment and instruments, she brought speakers into my grade school to talk about the products they designed and their purposes. Together, these experiences shaped who I am today and I couldn’t be more grateful to my friends and family who played a large role in my life.
Professional & Academic Background
During the summers of my freshman, sophomore, and junior years, I worked for Hamilton Sundstrand in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. This company had previously employed my mother and provided me with real-world engineering experience. They are best known for being a system engineering company and also for the prime contractor for NASA’s spacesuit and life support systems. Over the three years, I worked on a plethora of different projects ranging from database design to writing Statement of Work specifications for vendor bidding. This job gave me valuable lessons in the technical, industrial, and business aspects of engineering.
In 2010, I experienced my first true research project as a member of West Virginia University’s Microgravity Research Team (WVU MRT9). After exploring potential subjects, we submitted a proposal to the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Opportunities Program (RGSFOP) for an experiment regarding the control of propellant sloshing in microgravity. Through this project, I spent countless hours with the team designing and bringing the experiment to a test-ready status. This experience opened my eyes to the different aspects of developing an experiment and confirmed my aspirations to build a career centered about aerospace research.
Stemming from my participation in our microgravity research team, I joined a graduate student in designing a microgravity drop tower to be constructed at WVU. In this project, I helped with the design of the payload frame and the deceleration system. The deceleration system decided upon used a series of stacked “memory” foam pads. In order to design a safe and successful system, we first performed material analysis on the foam and determined its previously unknown material properties. The drop tower is now entering its construction phase and will be operational by fall 2011. At this time, I plan to design a microgravity experiment, making use of this new facility and exploring various scientific phenomena.
Hobbies & Interests
I am a very hands-on person; I love to tinker. Outside of work, my studies, and research projects, I like to work on my truck and motorcycle. Taking apart various mechanical systems has taught me so much about their design and how they work. Many times, I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned from my mechanical engineering curriculum to gain some greater understanding of the system. I am also a very active person. I enjoy running, playing tennis, racquetball, and bicycling.
Educational & Professional Objectives
After completion of my undergraduate studies, I plan to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. I would like to focus my studies on space technologies; however, I am unsure of what specific topic to pursue. My current interests lie within the subfields of propulsion and guidance, navigation, and control (GNC). This was strongly influenced by my aerospace senior capstone project, as I was responsible for designing the GNC subsystem and mission operations of a spacecraft whose objective was to visit a near-earth asteroid. I am sure that my experience in NASA Academy will help shape my future. It will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with other dedicated individuals who are passionate about spaceflight and the engineering behind space based technologies.