National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Kirsti M. Pajunen

Kirsti M. PajunenMilwaukee School of Engineering
Milwaukee, WI
B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Math minor, ’14

NASA Academy Research Project

  • Probabilistic Assessment of Space-Flight Medical Events

Principal Investigators

  • Dr. Beth Lewandowski
  • Dr. Jerry Myers

Wauwatosa, WI

Personal Statement

The American icon John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” I understand the term “saddling up” doesn’t really apply in my situation (John Wayne was in a lot of western movies), but the gist of his statement definitely applies to me. Sometimes, we can be very afraid to just push ahead and get through all the difficulties of a situation to see it through to end. But there’s always something waiting at the end of the tunnel that we can look forward to. It is always my priority that when I start something, I must see it through to completion. And if a great opportunity presents itself to me, even though it might be scary or challenging to pursue it, I always seem to find the courage to tackle it. This summer, as I embark on this amazing adventure with NASA, I know that I will not only embrace every opportunity I have to learn about space, aerospace engineering, and research, but also make myself a better and more well-rounded person and leader in the aerospace industry.

Education and Professional Goals

In the fall, I will be starting my junior year at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). I am a Mechanical Engineering major and Mathematics minor. I plan to graduate in May of 2014 from MSOE with a Bachelor of Science degree, and after graduation I plan to pursue a doctoral degree in Aerospace Engineering, hopefully at a university out west.

Extracurricular Activities

Music is very important to me. I have played the cello since the 4th grade, and since then I have made sure that I always keep playing, even now with the rigors of an engineering curriculum. In high school, I was very involved in the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. Now, in college, I play in the MSOE Symphony Orchestra and am one of the conductors for the group. I also am on the executive board for the entire Student Music Organization (of which the Symphony Orchestra is a part). I also am a freelance cellist, playing at weddings, concerts, and other events when asked.

I also am involved in service organizations at MSOE; I volunteer through Campus Volunteer Services and am the Vice President of the MSOE Circle K club (an international volunteer and service organization).

I am a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). At our MSOE chapter, we often have aerospace professionals come in to meetings to talk about their experiences and about aerospace topics. Also, a daily AIAA journal is sent out that keeps me updated on space and aerospace news.


This year I was a competitor in the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) Collegiate Rocket Competition. The objective of this competition was to design and build a one-stage, high-powered rocket that would transmit live video from a downward-looking camera to a receiver on the ground and reach an apogee of 3000 feet. I was on one of two MSOE teams that competed. From this experience, I learned about fundamental aerodynamics principles and other physics principles associated with high-powered rocketry, along with teamwork and written and oral communication skills. Our rocket succeeded in all of its goals, and our team believes we placed pretty well in the competition (we will receive the results of the competition in mid-June).

I am very versed in MATLAB and have completed a few projects involving controlling electromechanical devices with MATLAB programming. I also help out with various mechanical engineering and aerospace-related events on campus whenever help is needed. Being a member of AIAA also has helped me become experienced in this field because of, for example, the direct exposure to professionals in the field.


For my eventual full-time career, I hope to work at NASA or an aerospace company designing new and better mechanical and structural systems for air and/or spacecraft, or performing some sort of simulation testing and analysis of spacecraft. I also would like to someday play my cello in Carnegie Hall for a sold-out house, play in the pit orchestra for a musical on Broadway, see the Golden Gate Bridge (again), and, when I m retired, own a small movie theater with my sister.