A fortnight ago, I had the pleasure of attending one of the biggest conferences in aerospace engineering – the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Science and Technology forum – for the second time. Much like last year, the experience of joinng nearly 5,000 fellow aerospace engineers was slightly overwhelming in the best possible way.
This year, I attended the conference with two of my labmates and our advisor, Dr. Jon Poggie, to present papers on our various research topics. Naturally, the temperate warmth and sea breezes of San Diego were a welcome change from the bitter cold and biting wind of Indiana, so we were all plenty glad to be in attendance. I presented my paper “Stability of Cylindrical and Conical Hypersonic Boundary Layers,” in which my advisor and I demonstrate the use of a DNS code (the Higher-Order Plasma Solver) for simulating the growth of instability waves in high-speed boundary layers; the presentation went decently and I think that the paper was received reasonably well. My labmates’ presentations also went well and we all had plenty of opportunities to listen to many more interesting talks on a wide variety of topics. We also had plenty of opportunities to eat a lot of tacos, but that’s another matter entirely.
This year, there were two unique twists in store for me at the conference. The first was the acceptance of the Abe Zarem Award for Distinguished Achievement in Aeronautics. It’s a long and illustrious-sounding title, well-matched by the award itself – a solid bronze medallion with my name engraved on the back. I will admit that I have mixed feelings about the award – while I am very flattered and honored to have received it, I am confused to have won such a prize for a relatively small, one-off side project of mine. It’s strange to work hard on something and yet be recognized and applauded for something else entirely; I suppose I’ll count my blessings and hope that I am ever in a position to be recognized for the work that truly excites me – the study of hypersonic aerodynamics and flight.
The second twist and the true highlight of the conference for me took place immediately after the award-giving, for at the awards luncheon I was seated to none other than Col. David Scott, veteran astronaut and the seventh man to walk on the surface of the moon. Col. Scott is a personal hero of mine, and I actually just finished reading the book he co-wrote with cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, “Two Sides of the Moon”. Having the opportunity to sit and talk with him for over an hour was an incredible privilege and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We talked at great length about hypersonic flight, the Gemini/Apollo days, the status of human spaceflight, and much more besides; not only was Col. Scott gracious enough to answer my nonstop questions, but he even allowed me a picture with him and signed a photo of him from Apollo 15.
All in all, SciTech was a pretty spectacular week. San Diego was a beautiful and vibrant city, the conference itself was amazing, and I was fortunate to walk away with some singularly unforgettable experiences. As always, I am grateful to AIAA (in particular the excellent and wonderful staff who make these events possible) and the aerospace community as a whole. Some people find conferences exhausting but I always walk away with a newfound appreciation and respect for the incredible people and amazing work that surrounds me every day.