AEDC Engineer enjoys illumination of the night sky

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He's intrigued with stars, but not the kind that walk the red carpet.

Ever since Gary Hammock, Aerospace Testing Alliance engineering analyst for ranges and arcs, was a little boy, he has admired the stars in the night sky.

At the age of six, his father bought him a planetarium and Hammock would try to mimic what he saw outside in his bedroom.

"My interest lies more in trying to figure out what something is or what it forms," he said. "It's kind of like following in the footsteps of Galileo, when they would see something and try to figure out what it is or explain what it is."

His job at Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) deals somewhat with space, but more on the artificial aspect. Hammock performs engineering analysis for the center's S and G Ranges and arc heaters as well as some programming and computational work.

"I tend to enjoy the natural aspect of it more," he said. "But, it is still fascinating because without some of the artificial things we do here, we wouldn't be able to enjoy the natural things out there."

Hammock says even though it's not the center's prime mission, the work he gets to do with NASA every once in awhile is exciting.

"We recently tested NASA's Orion heat shield material samples in the arc heater facilities," he said. "It's neat to think that the work that we perform is vital to our exploration and experimentation outside of our atmosphere."

Hammock says his hobby helps him at work.

"It helps to learn what types of environments our sensors, heat shields, and (eventually) explorers have to traverse--whether it is through cold space at 4 Kelvin or planetary atmosphere at 4000 Kelvin."

Kelvin is a unit increment of temperature.
Hammock says he also enjoys just being able to go home and relax outside and take in the sights.

"My wife and I recently moved and where we currently live, there is not a lot of light pollution so you can see the sky better," he said. "It makes it a lot easier to enjoy the cool things in the sky."

He says it also makes him feel humble.

"The everyday worries and heartaches seem infinitesimal to the grand scheme of the universe at large," he explained. "The hypothetical situation of your favorite sitcom being canceled is nothing in comparison to the infinite probabilities of space."

The unknown is what intrigues Hammock.

"I like that there are other places--an infinite number of places, untouched by humans--that are 'out there' to explore," he explained. "Every time our arrogance leads us to believe we've got everything figured out, the universe gives us a new mystery to solve."

Like many young engineers, Hammock got the opportunity, during his senior year at Tennessee Technological University, to intern in the Engine Test Facility area, working on thrust and analysis of the Joint Strike Fighter.