Megan Harrington

Megan Harrington

Title
Mechanical Engineer
Organization
Lockheed Martin / NASA
Location
MS, United States
Megan Harrington
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Biography
I'm a mechanical engineer and I work with a team of talented engineers at NASA's largest rocket testing facility, the John C. Stennis Space Center. Right now, we are testing the rocket engines that will power NASA's next heavy-lift launch vehicle, the "Space Launch System," or "SLS." These engines are the "RS-25" and the "J-2X," which will power the SLS' first stage and second stage, respectively. The SLS will be the largest launch vehicle ever built and will be more powerful than the Saturn V rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon. The rocket engines are put to the test by firing them at different conditions so the engine performance can be "mapped." The testing process is a critical step in the overall process, and precisely what Stennis specializes in. My favorite part about this job is test day, hands down. Once the T-60 second siren sounds off, the test conductor counts down the final seconds, the engine ignites and then an explosive sound fills the air! The ground rumbles, a nice heat wave warms you up (which is nice on a cold day in the south), and a giant steam plume billows out! What's really cool is when it’s a lengthier test, a small cloud is actually produced from the amount of steam created in the testing process, and then it actually rains on us! But don't worry, with LH/LOX as your propellant, you're getting rained on by the cleanest cloud in the sky :)
Education
Master of Engineering Science (focus: Aerospace); Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Minor in Mathematics
  • I am willing to serve as a sponsor or coach for an engineering club or team.
  • I am willing to serve as science fair judge or other temporary volunteer at a local school.
  • I am willing to host a field trip to my place of employment.
  • I am willing to be contacted about potential job shadowing by interested students.
  • I am willing to be interviewed by interested students via email.
Answers by Ms. Megan Harrington

Hi Alexis! 

That's great to hear! I can guarantee that almost every engineer has been in your shoes at some point! Luckily, if you find your interests spanning across multiple engineering "disciplines," that's quite alright because there are areas of application where you can be immersed in multiple types of engineering/sciences. For example, I'm a "mechanical engineer," but researched in aerospace applications, which facilitated my interests in propulsion and combustion of propellants. Right here I've covered your three "disciplines." What's important is really finding what inspires YOU - what do you find interesting enough to go out of your way to learn about? Do you want to make a change in the world? If so, what do you want to change? Whatever the field of application is, I bet there's a way to encompass two, if not all three, of your areas of interest :) If you have something in mind and want some ideas, let me know - I'd be happy to share some ideas!

As for your questions about what I do, my field of study is largely "systems engineering," involving mostly fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and heat transfer topics. All of these fall under the mechanical and/or aerospace engineering umbrella. I look at the entire piping systems (supply vessels, components, flow controls, gauges, etc.) that route the various gases and liquids needed in the testing of high-powered rocket engines. The rocket engine test itself doesn't last but maybe 60 seconds to 5 mins or so (on average).  But in this timeframe and ~6-8 hours leading up to test time, there is a beautifully orchestrated sequences of events going on throughout the test facility where valves are opening and pumps are initiated to start flows in one (or two, or three) pipe system(s), and valves close elsewhere to direct the flow in some direction, and then these may close and another system flows from it's source to another desired location, and so on. In short, there's a lot going on at the same time, all over the facility. I help moderate and analyze their operation on a daily basis, get data, document any anomalies, analyze, and make sure everything is in check before, during, and after test. As for design, we get to design and redesign these systems as necessary for the different requirements an engine may need. The fluids we use range from gases to liquids (cryogenics), and largely hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, helium, and water. It's never boring, especially when the reward is seeing a 290,000 pound-force engine hot fire every week! 

My college experience was great and probably very similar to most engineering grads! I minored in math, joined a few clubs (i.e., ASME), got involved in undergrad research,all of which helped me narrow down my interests. Despite being one of the few, if not only, girl(s) in every engineering class, I'm happy to say I was not discriminated against. I did have a professor that warned me about possible discrimination from an older generation(s), and said us girls needed to be more on top of our game than the guys in our class as "practice" for the possible real world. He spent the entire semester calling on us (2) girls in class to have the answers for all of his questions. It was a little challenging at the time, but he had a good point and we enjoyed the challenge. Plus, we had the best grades in the end :) 

If I could offer any suggestions, it'd be to pay close attention to what you find interesting and then do some homework on the engineering that goes in to it. This approach alone helped me get where I am today. You'll have a "job" for the majority of your life, so you definitely want to find something you'll not only like, but truly enjoy. I love my job because I'm passionate about it's field of application and want to see space exploration become not only more available, but pushing the limits and boundaries (literally) of where humankind can travel and discover. This drive keeps me going and I think it's extremely important for everyone to find this source of passion within. If you do, you'll enjoy every day of what you do :) 

Let me know if you have any other questions and I'd be happy to help out!

Best of luck!
Megan

Hi Tanima! You sound just like I did when I was starting out, haha! Well, guess what? Robotics, or “mechatronics,” needs not only mechanical and electrical engineers, but also computer engineers! It’s a multidisciplinary application, so don’t worry if your school doesn’t offer a “robotics” or “mechatronics” class. In the first year or two of engineering core classes, engineers learn a little of each engineering field with courses like dynamics, circuits, computer programming, etc. So, when you take these courses, ask yourself how you can apply these principles to robotics. Similarly, I went to a school that didn’t offer courses in the application I was most interested in: aerospace. But like aerospace, robotics/mechatronics is built on the fundamental engineering courses that make up both mechanical and electrical engineering. So, I talked with the Dean of Engineering, who suggested mechanical engineering for its vast applicability in nearly every field of interest! I enrolled as a mechanical engineer major, took a few classes to try it out, and was hooked after my first LEGO robot in ME 101. With every project or assignment, I then asked myself, “How could this be applied to aerospace?” and kept learning as much as I could to the topics I liked most. If you like tinkering with electronics and sensing instrumentation, start out with electrical engineering; If you like building things that move and designing their interacting systems, start out with mechanical engineering. If I had to pick between the two, I’d suggest mechanical, as you take both basic kinematics and electrical circuitry. It truly comes down to what you find more interesting and fun, so immerse yourself in a robotics club (or start one!), project, research opportunity or competition. I would further suggest talking with an advisor at your school or the professors that teach the introductory courses in mechanical and electrical engineering…they might be able to share what projects and assignments you could do related to robotics! As for your programming course – do not get discouraged! I struggled through my first programming class as well and it wasn’t until the very end of the course that everything “clicked” for me and I started to enjoy it. Keep up the hard work and you’ll get farther than you’d imagined!