Johnathan Conley

University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR

Mechanical Engineering / Physics

Principal Investigators: Pete Worden and John Karcz
Project: Low-Cost Manned Mars Mission Architecture

Education and Experience:

The NASA Ames Academy for Space Exploration is not simply a research internship; it is an opportunity to take part in an American tradition that has had an immeasurable impact on the development of our country since its inception. The sense of pride that united a nation when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon and the sense of awe felt when staring into the very depths of the universe through the Hubble Space Telescope were realized directly through NASA projects. As the frontiers of our civilization begin to expand beyond earth, people at NASA will be writing the history of tomorrow. Through the NASA Academy, I can help to pen some of the chapters.

Space is my passion like no other subject. One of my absolute earliest memories is that of a little toy space shuttle that I played with for hours as a child. I flew the little white plastic shuttle from my bedroom to Jupiter in my imagination. I still remember making it orbit the tabletop globe that we had at home, turning off the lights in the room when it was on the dark side of the planet. As I grew older, I abandoned toys in favor of heavy textbooks and late nights doing homework. As I have progressed in my education, space has gotten a lot closer than just my imagination.

I have worked very hard to prepare myself academically for a career in the aerospace industry. My undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering and physics will give me the technical acumen to succeed in a demanding scientific field. I have complemented this conceptual knowledge with experiential knowledge by participating in design and research projects. As a member of our NASA Lunabotics team, I helped to design and build the drive systems that powered our robot to collect simulated lunar regolith. On our AIAA Design Build Fly team, I helped to select proper NACA airfoils and conduct materials qualification testing. My honors undergraduate research project on spectral characterization of Venusian mineralogy allowed me to learn more about planetary science while developing a desire to actually use the scientific equipment and vehicles I was learning to design. An internship at SpaceX this spring has solidified my understanding of engineering theory and application while giving me the inspiration and ability to push humankind forward to explore the boundaries of our knowledge and civilization. By learning how to apply knowledge learned in the classroom to build space hardware, I have better prepared myself to use space hardware to generate new knowledge.

Interest and Extracurricular Activities:

I love to explore. Whether that exploration is in learning a new skill like metalworking or going on a trek to find a geocache, I relish the thrill of intellectual and physical pursuit and discovery. I am constantly on a quest to acquire as many skills, certifications, and memberships as possible. I am a competition rifle marksman. I hold a General-class amateur radio certification, and I am in the middle of earning my Private Pilot License. From wilderness first aid to storm-spotting, I take every weekend class I can find. I plan to apply my diverse set of skills to become an astronaut and actually touch the heavens I have gazed upon for so long from the ground, but even if I do not succeed in that goal, along the way I will have explored the most interesting planet human beings have discovered - Earth!

Future Plans:

I plan to attend graduate school in aerospace engineering this fall at either Virginia Tech or the University of Maryland. A doctorate will better my knowledge while generating meaningful research results through a thesis project. The importance of linking pure research to visible application makes industry cooperation extremely important. While pursuing graduate studies, I plan to participate in co-ops or internships at more NASA centers or private aerospace companies like Bigelow, Orbital, or Boeing. These organizations are full of dreamers that have a vision for what the world of tomorrow should look like. Most importantly, though, they have highly talented individuals that can make those dreams a reality. After graduate study, I plan to work at NASA or one of the aforementioned companies in a research and development position. Research and development will allow me to pursue my passion for pure science while applying my best skills as an engineer. Later in life, I am interested in a university teaching or research position. Throughout my career, my true goal is to continue the tradition of discovery pursued by the thinkers, scientists, and engineers who came before me. The next generation of explorers are those who have trudged through the regolith of the moon, made a home in the vacuum of space, and will plant the first footprints in the red dust of Mars. I will bring this spirit of exploration into reality. Through my work in the aerospace industry, I will ensure that the future is as bright as I imagined it would be when I was just a child with a toy spaceship. As American computer scientist Alay Kay says, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." Through my time at the Academy, I will be doing just that.