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Syracuse University aerospace engineering student Brien Flewelling named Astronaut Scholar
Syracuse University aerospace engineering student Brien Flewelling named Astronaut ScholarAugust 16, 2005Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
When he was a child growing up in Unity, Maine, Brien Flewelling developed a love for the study of space. As a second-grader, he asked so many questions his teacher could not answer that she sent him to the library to further explore the subject.
On a family vacation to Florida in seventh grade, it wasn’t Disney World that captured Flewelling’s attention and imagination-it was the Kennedy Space Center. There, in a “rocket graveyard,” he got an up close look at the Saturn V rocket, which blasted astronauts into orbit during NASA’s Apollo Program in the 1960s.
“After walking the full length of the Saturn V, I could only imagine what it must have looked like standing up, ready for launch,” says Flewelling. “At that point, I knew that I wanted to work for NASA as an engineer.”
Flewelling, who will begin his senior year as an aerospace engineering major in SU’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science this month, is well on his way toward a career as an aerospace engineer. The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation-created by the Mercury 7 astronauts-recently named Flewelling as an Astronaut Scholar. The foundation was created in 1984 to foster space science education through scholarship awards. Flewelling was one of 18 recipients nationwide of a $10,000 scholarship.
“To be associated with the members of Mercury 7 is an honor that is out of this world, as well as my most meaningful accomplishment so far,” Flewelling says.
Flewelling came to SU as a Centennial Scholar, part of a group that was identified as people who would excel in the college community and contribute to all areas of student life. After completing his sophomore year, Flewelling went to work for the summer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in the Near Earth Mission and Systems Architecture Branch. There, he worked on the modification of an Excel-based mission design and costing tool, GAJAT, which allows a system engineer to estimate the cost of a near-Earth space mission in as little as half an hour. He also wrote a comprehensive manual for GAJAT, which JPL continues to use today.
Flewelling was working at JPL during at an historic time. While he was there, the spacecraft of the Cassini-Huygens team successfully entered Saturn’s orbit. “It was amazing to see the first pictures from this spacecraft return to Earth,” he says. Flewelling sat in on press conferences, including one where the Cassini team reported what they believed to be ice on Phoebe, a moon of Saturn; and he sat in on “Team X” design sessions. “It was incredible watching engineers-representing different subsystems of a mission-work together in real time,” he says.
The energy and enthusiasm from his JPL assignment come with Flewelling to his classes at SU, from the way he encourages other students to succeed to the leather jacket full of NASA patches that he wears as a tangible symbol of his ultimate goal. “He is very intelligent, highly motivated, eager to learn and is extremely passionate about what he wants to do,” says Thong Dang, SU aerospace engineering professor who nominated Flewelling as an Astronaut Scholar.
At SU, Flewelling has excelled in his studies. He is a member of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society; is historian of the University’s chapter of the Golden Key International Honor Society; and in May was named as a recipient of the Remembrance Scholarship, one of the most prestigious scholarships that SU bestows.
In addition to his academic success, Flewelling is a member of SU’s track and field team, a 21-hour-per-week commitment that he must balance with his academic studies. As a high jumper, he is a three-time Big East Academic All-Star and placed sixth indoor and was runner-up at the Big East OutdoorChampionships last season. He also serves as a tutor for other student-athletes in math, engineering and physics.
While Flewelling was offered an internship at JPL again this summer, he decided to stay in Syracuse to work on a control systems project with SU mechanical and aerospace engineering Professor Mark Glauser. “This was an opportunity for me to be completely immersed in engineering, to really wrap my mind around a problem,” he says.
In all he does, be it in the classroom or on the field, Flewelling always looks to move closer to his ultimate goal of being a NASA engineer. He also hopes that the early successes he has achieved will influence others to work toward their dreams.
“I am the first in my family to go to college,” Flewelling says. “With everything I do, I hope to set a good example for my brother and sisters to follow.”