Aerospace engineer by day and a rocker by night, Gregor Hanuschak shows us sometimes it is rock-it science. Learn about NASA’s Suborbital Space Program and listen as he croons about his “Quantum Physics Girl.”
Tell me about yourself.
Anita, I am an extremely hyperactive guy – I do a lot of things and a lot of things interest me. I have degrees in computer engineering, mathematics, music, aerospace engineering, and business. By day I do business development for NASA and in my free time I play music with my nerd rock band, climb, play hockey, and train for an Olympic length triathlon, amongst other things. I do what I like and I’m very passionate about what I do.
First off, how the heck do you pronounce your last name? The ‘hooked on phonics’ version, please.
My last name is pronounced “rock star” – it’s one of those last names that isn’t spelled phonetically.
Where are you from?
My parents tell me I was born in Philadelphia, PA, but I have no memory of the subject.
Siblings, pets, etc…
One sister, Dulcinea, who works as a lawyer in Santa Fe right now. She’s younger than me, but acts older. Basically this means she’s never filled her room chest-high with popcorn as a party theme. Let’s just say this makes her more conservative than me.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Wow – that’s kind of like asking do I want to eat lunch or dinner today. Can’t I choose both? Well, I guess since I’m going to name my future children Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca, I will have to go with Star Wars. Incidentally, it better be three boys and a girl or Chewbacca will be unhappy.
What are you most passionate about?
Three things would be commercial space, my music, and fitness. The first I do for my job, but I try to make time for climbing, hockey, triathlon training, and my nerd rock band in my free time.
What are your quirks?
I only buy organic food at the grocery store. I occasionally dye my hair blue. I always have a copy of my demo CD in my pocket, a flash drive around my neck, and a laptop or two at my side. I sometimes slip into speaking French although I’m very bad at it. I like to tell my younger sister that we got her from a homeless woman in exchange for two workers. I seek to have an attitude of non-judgment with those around me. I’m very hard on myself at times, but very easy on others. Compared to most other people, I have a much higher threshold for what I think is impossible. If something is hard I’m even more likely to want to do it.
I’m also told I follow through on more things than most. If I say I’m going to do something, it’s almost guaranteed it’s going to get done – it’s just a matter of how and when. The greatest compliment I ever received was probably from my friend’s uncle. He told me, “Gregor, some people wait for doors to open so they can accomplish something. You always seem to know what you want to accomplish and get the right doors to open for you.”
Would you describe yourself as a nerd?
I play in a “nerd rock” band and I work for NASA… I don’t think I can get away with a “maybe” to that question.
If you could travel back in time and meet a younger version of yourself, when would you go back to and what would you say?
I don’t know – it hasn’t happened yet.
What’s it like working for NASA? I imagine you all float down the hallways in space suits. Please, say it’s so.
There is a surprising lack of anti-gravity hallways at NASA, but the job is fantastic even with the presence of gravity. In my particular role, I get to work with all the commercial space companies and find ways that they and NASA can work together collaboratively for mutual benefit.
Is there a war room in the event of an alien invasion? Please, say it ain’t so.
Unfortunately I’m not allowed to publicly discuss the aliens, but I wish I could.
What does the future look like?
Good question. I was exposed to many visions of the future last summer when I worked with Singularity University. One of the founders, Ray Kurzweil, has many grandiose ideas which include being able to have computer hardware upgrades to our minds and bodies. These include enhanced memory, and nanobots that float around in your bloodstream to carry oxygen better than red blood cells making it possible for you to hold your breath underwater for around 10 minutes. I think these ideas sound great, but only time will tell if they will actually come to fruition.
Tell me more about these suborbital spacecraft. What do they do?
These are vehicles that travel from Earth to the edges of space – high enough to get a great view of our planet from a distance and make people like you and me feel weightless.
How do they work?
All of them work a little differently. Some take off from a launchpad, much like a rocket, others take off from an airport runway. Virgin Galactic, for instance, has an aircraft that takes off from a runway and then has a space ship take off from the airplane while the airplane is in flight.
What kind of research piggy-backs onto them?
There are many communities that can take advantage of this platform. First, any research that takes advantage of being outside the atmosphere for better visual acuity: heliophysics and astrophysics for example. Also anything that would benefit from 3 – 4 minutes of microgravity: fluids experiments, biological experiments to better understand how biological processes work in space, and technology demonstrations of flight hardware. Perhaps the most interesting in my mind however is the possibility for climate change research. These vehicles are actually able to access the upper mesosphere and lower thermosphere. Previously, this area of the atmosphere has been so hard to access that scientists have dubbed it the “ignorosphere” since they are forced to ignore it (it’s too high for balloon studies and too low for satellite studies). This is actually a VERY important region since greenhouse gas dynamics in this region cause atmospheric climate change. These vehicles will provide scientists with frequent, reliable, and predictable access to this region, which is very exciting.
Who gets to ride in them?
Tourists definitely get flight opportunities, but also researchers. NASA is going to wait on its decision to fund researchers on these vehicles until a number of flights have been flown, but other organizations may fund this research in the near future.
What’s the best name you’ve heard for a commercial space vehicle?
In my opinion, the best aerospace company name is “Armadillo Aerospace” – I guess they are from Texas, but the name still seems so unexpected to me.
Tell me more about this lightweight water contigency system. Also, I have to ask, have you drunk your own [converted] urine?
The researchers affectionately call this the “urine bag” – I hope they won’t mind me spreading the nickname. It’s a great system that allows reuse of water by turning urine into a Gatorade-like sports drink. Apparently it has no aftertaste of urine, but I have yet to sample it for myself.
You mentioned microgravity research taking place during a commercial space flight – what would one or two of these experiments potentially look like and how would they function?
One example might be flight testing the “urine bag” which we just discussed. Technology like this is technology that astronauts will one day use. Once it’s determined that the technology works on Earth, it needs to be ensured that it will work in a microgravity environment. You can’t have real-life humans depending on untested technology.
How did you get started in this line of work?
I have both aerospace and business degrees – this job is a natural extension of both passions.
How can someone who’s interested get involved?
I think many people would find it exciting to fly something they’ve worked on in space. Get involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Regardless of whether NASA is the one picking up the bill or not, I see many opportunities in the future to fly scientific experiments and to do research in these areas on commercial suborbital platforms.
Is there life on other planets?
There is indeed – I am living proof of this.
Is time travel possible?
If we can dream about it, I think it’s possible.
Do you have a favorite space movie?
There are a few bad ones, but I pretty much like all of them.
Do you have a theme song?
Right now it’s “Uprising” by the band Muse – very motivational stuff. To me it’s about refusing to let the world control you and achieving your own destiny.
Where did the band name [Zen Finger Painting] come from?
Wish there was a good story here, but a friend came up with a few pages of ideas and this was the one I liked the best.
How long have you all been rocking?
It’s not as easy an answer as you might think. The band has seen many band members come and go. I would say the current iteration – with my best friend and I as the core members – has been around for about five years, but there was a hiatus of two years when I was at business school on the East coast and we didn’t play much. The full story is going to be on VH1 behind the music at some point.
What are your goals for your music? The band?
We’re the only band gutsy enough – or ridiculous enough – to sing about math professors, robots, and girls from quantum physics class.
First off, the arts in general are probably the purest forms of creativity you can find and for me the predominant art form is music.
When you hear a song you like, it will get stuck in your head and can make you happy all day. When you hear a song about farm animals, hot girls in quantum physics class, or Papa Smurf – the cartoon leader of the Smurfs, you can’t help, but smile. As a band, we try to make music that’s both technically and lyrically entertaining. The future goal of the band, as I see it, is to bring that entertainment to as many people as possible.
Has your band helped you find your real-life Quantum Physics Girl?
The funny thing is that sometimes the band has a negative effect. I have a nerd watch with all kinds of functions: stopwatch, calculator, and it can even store phone numbers. I’ve had it for a long time. I still remember when I got my first cell phone – it was hard to break the habit of putting phone numbers in my watch rather than my phone. I’d ask a girl for her phone number at a party and the numbers would start to change when she saw me putting it in my watch. Nerd rock is a bit like my nerd watch in some ways.
Can I name a song?
Sure, but only if you name it, “Why do we eat the ones we love?” The band just finished the music video for that song and it’s up on YouTube as of this week. Thanks for the great song suggestion!