I am NASA: David Ham, Space Medicine Advanced Projects Engineer
There’s been a lot of talk about increasedintracranial pressure and the flattening of the globe of the eyecausing some major issues for current and former astronauts. It turns out, I know a lot about these issues. Let me be clear though, I’m not the medical expertise in the team, but I’m part of the team, or should I say, part of one of the teams, that’s looking into what it is that’s causing our astronauts potential eyesight and long-term issues. You don’t see an M.D. after my name, but I still play an integral role in trying to figure out what’s going on to our human bodies in space and some of the potential countermeasures we might be able to employ once we figure all that out. I’m a small part of what NASA calls the Space Medicine Division, more specifically I’m an employee of Wyle - the prime contractor for the Bioastronautics contract. Within Space Medicine and within Wyle, I’m part of a small group of very talented, and very diverse group of individuals that make up the Advanced Projects group.
I bet you’re now wondering a few things, none the least of which is, there’s a SPACE MEDICINE? And ADVANCED PROJECTS?! That sounds crazy! I can assure you, I’m not doing any alien autopsy kind of stuff here, but I am a small part of what’s going on behind the scenes to keep our astronauts healthy, happy, and fully functional in space. And the most important part of this whole thing - I love my job!
Let me give you the 10-second ‘elevator pitch’ of what it is my group does so we can just go back to why the heck I enjoy spending half my life in the office, 5 days a week, all year round.
We are engineers, clinicians, and scientists working together to develop requirements, protocols, procedures, software, and hardware to keep our astronauts healthy. We have a medical simulation laboratory (that I helped to outfit!) and a prototyping lab. We’re capable of designing and running experiments; building quick-turn prototypes; and just about anything else that Space Medicine, or anyone else at NASA might need if we have the expertise to do it.
So there it is, that’s what we do. Still confused? Honestly, when it comes down to it, we try to provide solutions and ways forward for the problems and issues that come up in human space flight. And it turns out, a lot of the issues that come up in space flight actually have a lot of analogues and terrestrial uses if you just continue to follow the rabbit down the hole (sometimes not that far at all). Therein lies one of the greatest parts of my job - I get to have a small part of some of the most cutting edge medicine out there, some of which you probably won’t even see for 10 years or more. If you don’t think NASA affects your lives daily, and I mean, daily, then well, let me tell you more about it —- because NASA’s involvement colors our lives - even, or rather, especially, in medicine.
What I’m doing from one day to another could change drastically and it keeps me ever on my toes. I could be representing our research team at the opening of the new BioScience Research Collaborative for theNational Space Biomedical Research Instituteone day and I could be designing a test bed for a human test subject study the next. There’s just so much to do and so very little resources sometimes, that we get a lot of opportunities to grow and gain skills we would have never thought possible.
For all of those out there who are still wondering what the heck Space Medicine is, trust me, I was in the same boat before I got this job! I didn’t have the slightest clue as to the existence of this division until I quite literally came upon this job just doing what I love to do - work with my hands and help others. I’ll leave the long story for another time, but I found myself helping a very nice person with her motorcycle issues, and found myself on the other end of a job offer. Fantastic.
I studied Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin(yay!) and I started life in this world with a tough decision, do I stay in Austin and help design/sell microchips, or do I go back to Houstonand play with astronauts(I’m sure the choice was much more intricate than that, but I swear that’s what the argument sounds like inside my current memories). Well, I don’t know about the general public, but playing with astronauts just sounded like something I couldn’t pass up and here I am, 8 years later, in wait… Space Medicine? Well ok! I’m still ‘playing with astronauts’ AND somehow I also get to say I work for NASA’s Space Medicine! And I’m an Electrical Engineer of all things. Luckily, I actually get to use those EE skills quite a bit here - building and designing electronic circuits, hardware, software, critical thinking and analysis. But somehow I also get to learn about the scientific process; design and run experiments and studies; and work with some of the most amazing people this side of the moon.
I wouldn’t - and most certainly do not - discount the fact that I get to work with an entire subset of amazing people worldwidewho genuinely love the industry they work in. For any of you who are just beginning your careers or are not quite sure where you’ll end up, do something you believe in - something you love. It really shows. And it really matters. Believe me when I say I am nowhere near the top of the totem pole in technical prowess, brainpower, accolades, etc., when it comes to this industry, but I don’t ever think this is a bad thing at all. I feel lucky to be a part of such a group of people who genuinely arrive at work everyday because they know they want to be here. These are people that I collect inspiration from and learn from on a daily basis. The kind of people who work at NASA don’t work here for the money. We show up to work because we believe in what we do and for me, I genuinely love the people I work with, from the people I work directly with everyday, to Human Resources, Purchasing, Shipping and Receiving, IT, heck, everyone who has a hand in making what I do worthwhile - which funny enough, includes YOU, the person reading this right now, because this, this is YOUR Space Program.