Of all the courses I’ve taken at USC, the coolest one had to be my astronautics 101 course. It was my first real engineering course, and as with all engineering 101 courses, I took it during my first semester at USC. My professor was a part time lecturer, and spent the days he wasn’t at USC at Edwards Air Force Base in Palmdale, California. His job at Edwards was a post within the advanced concepts research group. In other words, his job was essentially to look at engineering designs of anything the Air Force wanted to build, and then see if it was physically possible to make it. Although most of his work was “top secret”, he was able to share a few concepts with us, and since none of us had any real background in astronautical engineering, everything he described to us seemed like something out of star wars or star trek.
By the end of the semester I had learned more in astronautics than I had in any other course. We each had to write a Matlab code (engineering software), that figured out everything necessary for a launch to a given planet. I wrote a code for Venus, and when I was done, I was able to figure out how much energy, fuel, structural mass, money, and time were needed to get a test station into orbit around Venus, as well as the time windows and aspects listed above for a successful return trip. It’s something I’m extremely proud of, and I love showing it off to anyone else interested in space.
Most importantly, however, was the fact that since we were all new to the subject, our professor, Dr. Anthony Pancotti, piqued all of our interest in the discipline, and we had a great time going to class each day. And while Dr. Pancotti is no longer a USC professor (he took a job with an aerospace company in Seattle), there are plenty of other Astronautics and Aerospace professors who are similarly enthusiastic about teaching their field. In all, my astronautics 101 class was new and exciting, and it was the sole reason I’m still in astronautical engineering today.