Aerospace Education Research and Operations associate Joshua Brewster, right, works with researcher Ryan Lau on NASA's SOFIA flying observatory as he interns at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California.
Undergraduate engineering student Joshua Brewster from Juneau is pictured in front of the bulkhead that carries a sophisticated infrared telescope on NASA's SOFIA flying observatory.
Story last updated at 7/24/2013 - 1:56 pm
Joshua Brewster is a University of Alaska Southeast student chasing his dreams to Southern California. He's in the midst of a 10-week internship at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. Brewster traces his drive to be a scientist to his freshman year of high school. He had a eureka moment in physical science class.
"These ideas all came together and I was hit with a realization of the absolute splendor of the universe and all that was in it, and the amazing fact that I was connected to it in more ways than I understood," Brewster said. "I don't mean that in a spiritual sense, but more in the 'holy crap, look at all the science!' sense."
He said the revelation shook him and even made his friends worry about him a little.
"I was a part and product of a vastly complex system of beautiful biological and physical processes that went far beyond my wildest imagination," Brewster said. "I was pale and had butterflies in my stomach for the rest of that day."
From that point on, he focused his efforts on science.
"I like to think I had a significantly stronger passion for science and life, and that it helped put me on the road to where I am now and where I'd like to go," Brewster said. "My family and peers have always been very supportive, too. I can't discount that."
Brewster wanted to be an archeologist. He's a native of Juneau, but went to elementary school in Vermont, returning to town when he was 12. When he graduated from high school, he enrolled at UAS intending to study archeology. Ultimately, he changed his mind and decided to follow his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut.
"I wanted to push my intelligence to its limit," he said.
Brewster can't pursue aerospace at UAS, but he's enrolled in the pre-engineering program, a one year bridge program for engineering degrees at other UA schools. This year, he enrolled in the National Student Exchange program that allows students to study at other U.S. universities. In the fall he'll be attending California Polytechnic in San Luis Obispo.
"I'm still technically enrolled in at UAS, but I intend on moving on as a full time student at Cal Poly to major in Aerospace Engineering with a focus in Astronautics," he said.
Brewster is taking math, physics, and engineering classes.
"Engineering degrees don't focus so much on liberal arts," he said. "However, I will still need to take plenty as electives. The other important classes are writing and communication, as that's half the job as an engineer, communicating well."
At the Dryden Flight Research center, Brewster works alongside professional engineers as an AERO Associate. One of his projects is working with NASA's C20-A, a former military Gulfstream III jet that has been modified to perform environmental science missions. This jet flies all over the world to do Earth sciences research, studying volcanoes and other geologic phenomena. He is also assigned to the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, program. The SOFIA incorporates a high-tech German-built 2.5-meter infrared telescope mounted in the rear fuselage of a highly modified Boeing 747SP, a shorter, long-range version of the 747 passenger jetliner.
Brewster wasn't originally assigned to the project he wanted more than anything else.
"I would not have ended up working on the Dream Chaser, my dream project for this summer, unless I sought out the right people or said no to something I was unsure about," he said.
The simulator is a contender for a next-generation vehicle that would be capable of transporting astronauts and scientists into low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. The flight simulator also helps the Dream Chaser's test pilots, both of whom are former astronauts, prepare testing procedures. Getting to work on the Dream Chaser has taught him about achieving challenging career goals.
"In my experience, the best thing you can do for yourself is talk to as many people in your interest area as you can," Brewster said. "You'll find new ideas and open doors. Most professionals love to share their experiences with students. Also, if you find an opportunity in your interest field, even if its relevance is not yet clear, just go for it."
He wants his peers to feel empowered to get what they want regardless of circumstance. Brewster was able to attend UAS in his first year for free because of scholarships, and he thinks anyone can do what he did.
"There is a ton of free money out there that goes unclaimed, so your chances of getting it can be very high," he said. "Pursuing your dreams is more important than money, but play it as smartly as you can and apply for as many scholarships as possible."