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5 Things About Me: Engineer Mike Kelly

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Science class mentor Mike Kelly tests a Los Angeles continuation school student's wooden tower on an earthquake shaker table. (Photo: Michael J. Kelly)

Michael J. Kelly
Principal Engineer
NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC)
Hampton, Virginia

Background: I am a principal engineer working for the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) based at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The NESC was created after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, to conduct independent tests, analysis, and assessments in support of NASA's most critical technical issues. I lead "tiger teams" of technical experts recruited from across NASA, industry, academia, and other U.S. government agencies. The NESC's unique model of bringing together broad-based expertise to address difficult issues, leveraging diverse technical perspectives, and applying sound project management, allows my teams to provide timely data and value-adding independent recommendations to NASA programs, projects, and institutions.

Question 1: Share a Web link/video/blog etc. that you found that really excites you and tell us why.
Answer: The NESC website has broadly interesting information, including a description of support we provided for the Chilean miners' rescue effort and videos of a dynamic test conducted of a new system for crew escape from an exploding rocket.

Question 2: Share a story from your past that led to your choosing your field of work. Why did you become an engineer?
Answer: The Apollo 11 moon landing deeply inspired me, at nine years old, to become an aerospace engineer. I learned respect for the art of safely balancing engineering performance with costs, in an industry career in transport aircraft design, test, and incident investigation. I had to pinch myself when an opportunity came in 2006 to join NASA.

Question 3: Share a comment or opinion you have on a topical science-related issue.
Answer: We live in a time of great discovery and understanding about who, when, how, and where we are in the universe, but many U.S. adults are scientifically unaware. Many lost their interest in science during middle-school. I think new teaching tools are needed that capitalize on middle-school student motivators to combat the forces that quash curiosity at that age.

Question 4: Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.
Answer: Archeoastronomy fascinates me. I've participated in camping expeditions to the U.S. southwest to measure solar and lunar alignments of thousand-year-old Anasazi ruins. It strikes me that so many of us today live our lives disconnected from our world's most basic cycles.

Question 5: Read a book you are dying to tell your peers about? Give us a brief summary and why you love it.
Answer: Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, by the late paleontologist Steven J. Gould, remains one of my favorites. His descriptive analysis, from the disappearance of .400 batting in baseball to the increase in biological complexity through time, got me "thinking statistically" about many other things, and may do the same for others. 

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Science class mentor Mike Kelly tests a Los Angeles continuation school student's wooden tower on an earthquake shaker table. (Photo: Michael J. Kelly)
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