Dr. Christine M. Darden
Most of what you want in life will be because of your discipline. Discipline is perhaps more important than ability.
—Dr. Christine M. Darden
Dr. Christine M. Darden has been one of the leading aerospace engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center. After leaving her job as a mathematics teacher, Dr. Darden joined NASA in 1967 as a mathematician but eventually switched to engineering, going back to school and earning her Ph.D. in the discipline.
Taking her own advice ("You have to be ready when opportunity comes. And you have to be persistent"), she has become one of NASA's shining stars with her research on supersonic and hypersonic aircraft, focusing on the reduction of sonic boom.
Dr. Darden explains that this phenomenon occurs "when we fly above the speed of sound a shock wave is sent to the ground causing what is termed a sonic boom. These booms can be quite loud and devastating to people, animals, windows, and certain structures. In fact, supersonic flight over the U.S. is banned, for that reason. Even the Concorde cannot fly supersonically until it's over the Atlantic Ocean."
Dr. Darden leads one of the key teams in NASA's Supersonic Transport Research Project. By using wind tunnels and modifying the shape of the aircraft, her team's simulations of supersonic flight have identified different aircraft shapes that could significantly reduce the effects of sonic boom.
Presently, the Concorde is the only supersonic commercial aircraft. It is expensive; its range is limited; and the noise level exceeds all airport limits. Therefore, any significant advance in the reduction of sonic boom, coupled with next-generation technology, will allow aircraft to operate supersonically over the mainland, thus enabling substantial reductions in commercial air flight times.
As the director of the Aeroperforming Program Management Office at NASA, and possessing outstanding abilities as an engineer and technical lead in supersonic aerodynamics and sonic boom research, Dr. Darden is superbly ready and able to be a major player in cutting-edge aeronautical research.
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