Anna-Maria Rivas McGowan: NASA project manager & more
This articulate aeronautical and astronautical engineer manages a futuristic project and finds time to act as a NASA
spokespersonAnna-Maria Rivas McGowan: using negative advice as extra energy for achievement.
...Anna-Maria Rivas McGowan: using negative advice as extra energy for achievement. Her
parents were born in the West Indian island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, but Anna-Maria Rivas McGowan
grew up near Dulles International Airport, right outside Washington, DC.She
was fascinated by the big airplanes as a kid; her
idea of a great afternoon was standing there at the airport, watching the planes taking off and landing.
sixteenth birthday all she
wanted was a flying lesson, and she
got it.But the maturing McGowan was becoming more interested in the way airplanes work than in flying them herself.As high school graduation approached she
started looking for a university where she
could study aeronautical engineering.
school advisors were pushing her
toward something "easier," she
parents' support and chose to ignore that well-meaning but defeatist counsel.She got into Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN), and received her BS in aeronautical and astronautical engineering in 1992.
"I used the negative advice as extra energy toward getting my degree," she
Morphing at NASA-LangleyMcGowan
is still fascinated by everything to do with aeronautics.She works at NASA's Langley Research Center (Hampton, VA), where she helps create advanced technology for airplanes of the future.McGowan is project manager for the Morphing Project at Langley.
The $12 million project involves more than ninety researchers from twenty NASA
branches and a number of university researchers as well.
"We work with technologies that we can't just graft onto today's airplanes.These are what we call ‘disruptive technologies,' things that will really change the way we fly," McGowan
herself is a specialist in smart structures technologies.
Goals of the program include decreasing emissions, enhancing the mobility and agility of airplane wings, getting people farther faster, and contributing to national defense.In fact, the group is looking at the design of unmanned vehicles to patrol the U.S. borders.
Branching outMcGowan started at Langley in 1988 as a co-op student.
"You rotate around and do a lot of different projects," she
explains.It was heady work, involving a space truss, a space vehicle program, the F-18
thrust vectoring program and a program for flying through heavy rain.She
joined NASA full time right after graduation, and since then her
research has focused on the future of flying.She
started in the aeroservo-elasticity branch at Langley
, then moved to the aeroelasticity branch."We don't use small words here," she
says with a smile.Aeroelasticity, she notes, was researched in a special "transonic dynamics tunnel," a wind tunnel that operates past the speed of sound.
"We would test scale models of airplanes that flex and bend and twist just like a real airplane does."
In 2000 McGowan
moved to the Morphing Project.
is a young minority woman rising rapidly in a male-dominated field."NASA
management has been very supportive throughout my entire career, and that makes a big difference," she
MS in aerospace engineering at Old Dominion University
(Norfolk, VA), and "I've taken management training classes and leadership classes that NASA
has sponsored," she
research duties, McGowan
is involved in advocacy and education on behalf of NASA
.As an advocate for her
own program, she
gets to explain and defend her
projects at NASA HQ."Then they have to explain it to congressmen who pay our salaries and fund these things."McGowan
herself has never gone before Congress, but she's
often prepared the material to be presented.
"You might say we are funding the Einsteins of the world," she
says."Years ago nobody would dream of putting a metal box on the kitchen counter and letting it blast their food with invisible rays.But somebody had the foresight to see that microwaves have the potential to do some really useful things, and now we're all using them."
Speaking for NASANASA celebrates the future of flight at Space Day each year, and McGowan is a national spokesperson and NASA representative for the 2003 event.
This year is, of course, the one-hundredth anniversary of the first airplane flight, and, "They wanted someone who was working on technologies for the next century of flight," McGowan
"Space Day is an educational initiative," she
explains."It aims to inspire young people to be visionaries and space pioneers."When people ask, McGowan tells them she loves both engineering and her work at NASA.