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Behind the ScenesMeet the People

IMAGE: Shamim Rahman
Dr. Shamim Rahman is NASA's Chief Engineer for the Propulsion Test Directorate at Stennis Space Center.

Shamim Rahman,
Stennis Space Center, Miss.

NASA is a fixture in Dr. Rahman's life

NASA has touched Dr. Shamim Rahman's life for about as long as he can remember or at least as far back as 1969, when he was glued to the television watching Neil Armstrong step onto the lunar surface. "That's when I decided to join whoever went to the Moon," he said. "At the time I could barely spell NASA."

Now he does a lot more than spell, since he's NASA's Chief Engineer for the Propulsion Test Directorate at Stennis Space Center. He provides technical oversight for one-of-a-kind national test facilities collectively valued at over $2 billion, for a variety of research and development test projects for next-generation rocket engines.

Born in 1963 in Jamshedpur, India, Rahman was always fascinated by flight, visiting airports just to watch takeoffs and landings. After he completed elementary school in Bahrain (a Persian Gulf island between Qatar and Saudi Arabia) and high school in India, his father sent him to the U.S., where, in 1979, he enrolled at Texas A&M University and experienced another turning point in his life.

Pleasantly surprised that he could major in aerospace engineering, he began working with Rockwell International Corp. through a co-operative student program between NASA Johnson Space Center and A&M. In 1981, the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1, launched. "That was the beginning of my direct involvement with the space program," he said. "Apollo got me excited about space flight, but STS was the motivation." STS stands for Space Transportation System, which includes all Space Shuttle components, such as the orbiter, external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters.

A year later, he met a scientist widely heralded as one of the original founding fathers of modern rocketry and astronautics, Hermann Oberth. The two met when Rahman was doing research with a professor who nominated him to attend an international astronautics conference in Budapest, Hungary, where students were presenting papers. Oberth was at the conference.

One of Rahman's most prized possessions is a picture of him meeting Oberth at the conference. Another is a signed copy of Oberth's book (in German), "The Rocket into Planetary Space," published in 1923. In the 1930s, Oberth took on a young assistant in Germany named Wehrner Von Braun, who became a leading rocketry researcher for Germany, then after World War II led the U.S. drive to land on the Moon. Oberth died in 1989 at age 95, Von Braun in 1977 at age 65.

All Rahman's education and experience has led him to the Stennis test stands, where all of today's Space Shuttle Main Engines are tested, and future developments are demonstrated. "This is where the ideas prove themselves," he said. "At full scale and full power, the engine tests give us the confidence to turn test engines into flight engines. These facilities are unique in the world."

With a master's degree from California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University (PSU), where he concentrated on rocket propulsion research, Rahman cannot give enough credit to the educators in his life. "Learning continues to be a lifelong endeavor," he said, "and I feel very much indebted to the many great teachers over the years." That's particularly true about his thesis adviser at PSU, Robert Santoro. "He was the type of person who would teach you to learn on your own," he said. "He'd give you all the resources you needed but support you when you needed help."

He's also indebted to all his colleagues in the E-Complex. "We continue to learn together, pushing the boundaries in our work of rocket propulsion testing," Rahman said. "That's what makes this time so rewarding."

Rahman lives in Mandeville, La., with his wife, Shaheen, and two daughters, Amnah and Zara. Shaheen teaches biology at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, La., and both daughters attend school in the St. Tammany Parish school district.

All text and photos for this story were provided by Stennis Space Center.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 07/09/2003
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