By Samuel Sorkin
Photo Courtesy of Diana
Diana Alsindy is a senior at the University of California-San Diego, majoring in chemical engineering with a focus on aerospace and mechanical engineering. She serves as the Propulsion Team Lead and Triteia CubeSat Operations Manager for SEDS UCSD.
Earlier this year, she was named as one of 36 inaugural Brooke Owens Fellows. The Fellowship, a volunteer-led program awarding internships and senior mentorship to exceptional undergraduate women seeking careers in aviation or space exploration, was founded in memoriam of space industry pioneer and pilot D. Brooke Owens.
How did you get interested in space?
“I was never crazy about space exploration specifically when I was 5 years old because I lived in a very tight bubble back in the Middle East. I started reading about astronomy and space in 2008 when I came to United States and escaped the confined cage that society forced me to live within. I slowly learned to question everything, and wrap my head around concepts. I was interested in Mathematics, Engineering and Science. It was very logical for me to purse Engineering. I was inspired by the many stories of women in space and obsessed over building rockets and vehicles that go to space.”
What interested you about SEDS and what do you enjoy about it?
“Endless nights trouble shooting valves and sensors, long humid days in Purdue University analyzing engine testing data and impromptu runs to Home Depot to buy last minute materials is quite typical but I’ve cherished and embraced every minute of SEDS. Leading a team of young and talented engineers to complete an arduous, high visibility project is a lifelong dream of mine. I want to work on projects that are made to inspire the future of human space exploration into the unknown, discover new worlds, and push the boundaries of scientific and technical limits and SEDS was the perfect place to be in order to accomplish those dreams with experienced leaders and dedicated people.”
What did you do at Purdue University?
“[The testing of] the Callan thruster that will power the Triteia CubeSat took place at Purdue University with Professor Timothee Pourpoint and his graduate students. The objective of the testing was to obtain data about the thruster’s pressure, temperature, thrust, heat flux across the thruster walls, and flow velocity of the propellant through the lines. Confirming the thruster design and efficiency from the thrust values at ideal steady state operation would then prove the flight technology readiness level of additively manufactured thrusters. [Our] team conducted this test on Purdue’s test stand because they have the available propellant and technology to test a 1 lbf engine. SEDS will continue work with Purdue for more future testings. The ideal testing of the Callan thruster was to perform a series of burn sequences or pulse tests and determine what amount of mass flow rate sprayed at the catalyst pack and at what time intervals would produce the highest temperature increase in the catalyst pack for the least amount of propellant. As a result, several pulse tests would be performed in order to compare which pulse length and at what interval would be the most efficient. After confirming the most efficient pulse, the thruster would then be tested at 15 sec and at 82 sec in order to replicate the burn times that have been calculated during mission operation. These steady state tests would help SEDS UCSD analyze the fatigue and thermal stresses experienced by the thruster during long operation.”
How did you hear about the Brooke Owens Fellowship, and what was your multimedia project? Take us through the process of applying and learning that you were accepted.
“One of [our] mentors and sponsor, Dan Hendrics – the owner of Open Space Maker Labs – forwarded the flyer for the Brooke Owens Fellowship to everyone in SEDS. I immediately got interested and added it to my “Favorites” on my Chrome browser. A few months after, approaching the deadline, I opened the application and filled it out. I specifically liked how concise, simple and easy the application was. I have never seen an application that asks about your top ten values that you want to see in your internship/fellowship. For example, my top ten important values were from most important to less important: Teamwork, hands-on technical experience, company, networking, geographical location, industry knowledge, business experience, policy experience, corporate culture. What makes the application process unique, is that they are not just assessing you based on how “fit” you will be for the company. It is the other way around! How “fit” the company will be for YOU. An interesting addition to the process was the “creative” submission, which allows you to show the other side of your personality. A lot of women in the fellowship shared drawings, skits, poems, [and] songs, etc. I believe to be a great leader in industry, you need to be well-rounded and enjoy every aspect of your strengths and talents. After submitting the application, there were rounds of interviews with the founders to understand your personality and get to know you more. I liked the fact that we were pre- assigned to two companies and we get to select which ones we best fit in most. All in all, the process is very well-established and thought through…the smoothness, speed and passion put into making it a reality was absolutely refreshing and astonishing!”
What are you excited about for this summer as a Brooke Owens Fellow? What do you want to get out of the Fellowship?
“I am super excited to work on LauncherOne as a propulsion engineer in the structural engineering department at Virgin Galactic! Virgin Galactic was [one of] my top three choices for companies that I wanted to work for and I expressed that interest in the fellowship application. LauncherOne is an orbital launch vehicle, which will air launch to orbit rocket, designed to launch “smallsat” payloads of 200 kilograms into Sun-synchronous orbit. I am specifically excited to “hopefully” work on the engines that will power the vehicle. Other than the technical stuff, I am looking forward to meet all the girls who I have met virtually, as well as all the mentors and founders of this amazing fellowship!”
WWhy is it important to you to have this fellowship for women specifically enthusiastic about the space industry and getting involved in it?
“Women are making strides in the [aerospace] industry and STEM as a whole, but it requires a lot of intention, thought and education in order to change those things over time. Two-thirds of the women have been surveyed and reported having to prove themselves over and over again where their successes discounted and their expertise questioned. I have been through this situation before, where I was questioned whether I can use a torque wrench or not. People just assume you’re not going to be able to cut it, or get the job done that men are “supposed” to do. It is a motivation to work harder, but it also makes me feel like I have to be perfect. Being a part of this fellowship is a massive step into changing these ideologies. Being a part of a team such as Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Blue Origins, et al is more than rewarding! It shows that women can do anything and be part of history too!”
Who is your mentor? What does it mean to you that this fellowship not only comes with an internship, but with a mentor and a group of fellow talented, passionate, driven, enthusiastic women?
“My mentor is the great Scott Parazynski [and] we will [be meeting] very soon! I will have the chance to meet a NASA Astronaut, Mount Everest Summiteer, world-renowned speaker and a generally cool, hardworking man! It is an honor to be able to connect and learn from him and his experiences. One of the biggest attractions of this fellowship is the mentorship program (internally and externally). I feel I will be a well-rounded engineer after this fellowship because of its diverse opportunities. Being surrounded by like-minded, enthusiastic, hard working women will teach me how to break free of the labels and the ideas that we place on ourselves because of the nature of the STEM society and its male-dominated tradition.”
What are your goals for a career?
“For many years, since the beginning of the world’s efforts to expand our understanding of our planet, there has been a large quantity of brand new developments in technology. With greater technology and more understanding of the universe, more and more questions have crossed our inquisitive minds. The more we know the more we desire to understand, never fully quenching our thirst for understanding the universe. To not question our surroundings goes against the very basic instinct since the beginning of man’s ability to look around and try to better understand our home. My passion is to expand human understanding of our place in the cosmos. I want to help inform the public and our leaders and make sure that our missions of space exploration are designed to ask the right questions. Being a scientist means you have to be an explorer every day of your life. I would love to test my ideas and design them. Exploration of science, space, [and] new lands is the pursuit of powerful and prosperous nations and I want to be part of that. I believe it is important that NASA employ scientists who are versed and active in state-of-the-art science to provide advice on how to most efficiently enable the nation’s goals in scientific exploration of space.”