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August 18, 2019

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Reaching for the stars

The ONU-aerospace connection

Following up on the  feature about Jed Marquart's visit to Cape Kennedy as a youngster, ONU's website features several alums who have professions in the aerospace industry. This is one of those persons. It's Steven Oleson, a 1986 ONU alum. Click here for additional features on ONU-aerospace people.

By Steven Oleson
I lead the COMPASS Lab (Collaborative Modeling for Parametric Assessment of Space Systems) at NASA Glenn Research Center. In about two weeks time, we design a complete spacecraft concept from beginning to end. We do about 15 concepts a year.

Some of the things we are asked to find solutions to are pretty wild. For instance, in 2012, our team came up with a viable plan to actually catch an asteroid out in space.

We’ve designed a submarine to explore the liquid methane oceans of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and a vehicle to sail across the surface of Venus. We are currently trying to figure out how to send a spacecraft to Jupiter’s moon Europa, drill through 20 kilometers of ice and search for life beneath.

It’s proving to be quite the challenge. If somebody wanted to hide life somewhere, that’s where they'd hide it because it’s so hard to get to.

I think I’m able to do my job because of what I learned at Ohio Northern. I learned the basics really, really well, and it means that I can lead a diverse team. We’ve got electrical engineers, thermal engineers and aerospace engineers.

And it isn’t just engineering. Our cost engineer was a math major, the person who is working on solar cells was a chemistry major, and I didn’t get a degree in any of those fields. But I learned the basics at ONU that allow me to work with them. I learned how to learn at ONU, and that has served me well.

In terms of the future of space exploration, I think it is imperative that we become a spacefaring nation. I’m a planet and moons guy. I’m not a theoretical physicist who is going to figure out how to travel to other solar systems, but I look up and see Jupiter with all those moons and I know we can figure out a way to get to them. It’s exciting to be able to go to work every day and do just that.