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Bob McMahon, Deputy Chief of Wind Tunnel Operations
NASA Ames Research Center

Picture:  Bob McMahon

Question 1: Who are you and what do you do?

Hi, my name's Bob McMahon and I'm deputy chief of the wind tunnel operations for NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. We operate all the wind tunnel facilities here at Ames Research Center. We have the world's largest wind tunnel and the world's most productive wind tunnel here. What a wind tunnel is, it's really a building or a structure in which we place airplanes and other things to test their aerodynamic characteristics by blowing wind across them and measuring what happens.

Question 2: How did you begin your career with NASA?

Actually when I first came to NASA, I was interested in working on the space side and I had an opportunity to be interviewed at the world's largest wind tunnel facility and my skills matched up exactly with what was needed at the time. Since then I've just had a great time working here and have been here ever since. The neat thing about what we do here, is that we see new things constantly and we get to see what's happening in the aircraft industry before the public ever gets to see it. We're always on the cutting edge. We also test different things here like space shuttles and parafoils and we've even tested large trucks in our big facilities. So, we do quite a range of things.

Question 3: Is learning math important for a career in aeronautics?

Math is absolutely necessary if you want to get into the field of aeronautics but kids shouldn't be afraid of math. Actually, math is fun once you get the hang of it and it's really like learning to read or anything else, you take it one step at a time. The neat thing about math is you can solve a problem several different ways and get exactly the same answer because it's perfect.

Question 4: What's easy or hard about your job?

Well, because I have so many people working for me on so many different projects, the easy part of my job is getting to stick my nose in each one of them a little bit and get involved in the details of the problems they are trying to solve, because problem solving is really fun. The hard part I think is when I've got six different experts and they all have differing opinions and sometimes I have to sort those out.

Question 5: Would you encourage young people to pursue careers in math?

Absolutely. Science and engineering, computers, everything in technology we do today is based strongly in mathematics. And we need people who can apply it as well as to teach it.

Question 6: What challenges have you dealt with in your career?

My biggest challenge was just getting started. Sometimes we're our own worst enemies. Shortly after my injury, I was depressed a lot and I didn't feel I could do a lot of things. I decided not to be depressed anymore. I decided the worst thing in the world was not being paralyzed, it was being depressed. And, I decided to spend some time with people who inspired me and I decided to make a difference in my own life. So, once getting past that, the rest was really easy.

My disability has not really been an issue at my job, because I chose not to make it one. For instance, I work all on one level and I have things spread out on many tables and maybe the desks are raised up a little bit so I can get under them. Things like that... Once in a while, we've had to put in a curb cut or a ramp. But, that was never a problem and everyone did their best to make sure that things were accessible to me.

Question 7: What is your advice to others with disabilities?

The main thing is that you should just follow your dream and don't worry about what people tell you you can't do. Be careful about who you share your dream with, because negative people can steal your enthusiasm and they'll take your opportunity with it. So find people that inspire you and share your dream with them. Find people in the field you're interested in working in and ask them questions about the kinds of things you should do to succeed and then just do it, one step at a time.

Picture:  Bob McMahon

Question 8: Is there anything else you'd like to say?

Don't be afraid to take responsibility for yourself. Be courageous! Never think of yourself as a victim, because as soon as you do you take away your own power. Think about the things you can do. Just pick one and decide to follow through on it. Start with little things first and before you know it you'll be changing the world!

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