Lindsay Kirk (AeroEngr’08) fully realizes her day job at NASA’s Johnson Space Center as part of the Commercial Crew Program is a special one.
It’s a high-profile post that has her working closely with Boeing and SpaceX, overseeing their aerothermal environment development for use in entry and aborts to make sure everyone makes it home safe at the end of the day.
“Through these new partnerships with commercial providers, we are really creating new designs and systems — new ways to get to space — which is very exciting,” she said. “Like any other job, you can get bogged down and maybe want to pull your hair out. But when that happens I step back and realize how cool a job this really is. It’s incredible to be a part of something so big.”
Kirk is quite proud of her CU Boulder connections — she grew up in Boulder, and both of her parents also graduated from the university. So when NASA Johnson Space Center targeted the campus as a candidate for stronger partnerships through the new University Envoy initiative, she knew she had to be involved. The program pairs alumni working at the agency with their alma mater to enhance research capabilities, establish innovative partnerships and foster engagement in NASA’s STEM development activities.
“We are starting by connecting with professors, staff and students right now — letting them know about different NASA programs or internships that are available, for example,” Kirk said. “I always wanted to give back to the university and this felt like a great opportunity to reconnect in a meaningful way. I knew I had to be involved.”
One of the first events the initiative is hosting is a seminar on the design and development of the Orion thermal protection systems hosted by the newly formed Hypersonic Vehicles Interdisciplinary Research Team within the college. The seminar is set for 2 p.m. on Sept. 20, and interested groups can contact Professor Iain Boyd for details.
“We are hopeful that event will be the start of a long and really beneficial partnership through this program for everyone involved. It is a really cool opportunity, and I am thrilled to be directly involved,” Kirk said.
Kirk began working at NASA as an intern during her time as an undergraduate in the College of Engineering and Applied Science through the Cooperative Education Program. Every other semester she would work as a full-time employee of NASA in Houston, seeing the real-world application of what she was learning in the classroom.
Over the years, she worked in various divisions including life support — where she helped develop the life support systems for the Exploration space suit — and aerosciences, where she was part of the team that developed the aerothermal environments for the Orion vehicle as part of the Artemis Program. Today she works in the Applied Aeroscience and Computational Fluid Dynamics Branch as the entry aerothermal system manager for the Commercial Crew Program.