Amber Gell, an experiment support scientist working on the International Space Station Medical Project, spends her evenings in welding class at San Jacinto College to learn the skill for various research projects related to human space flight. Photo credit: Jeannie Peng-Armao, San Jacinto College marketing department
Aerospace scientist enrolls in community college to learn welding for future space missions
Jeannie Peng-Armao -- August 15, 2012
PASADENA, Texas — Amber Gell of Clear Lake has visions of one day seeing humans on Mars, and she's not too far off if recent news of the Curiosity rover is any measure of success. The aerospace scientist is dedicating research time at NASA toward working on the technology to get there, starting with welding.
She already holds two bachelor's degrees in aerospace engineering and aerospace studies, a master's degree in physiology and human performance, and a graduate certificate in space systems engineering. With all the technical aspects covered, she' s also currently working on a Master of Business Administration to figure out how much all of her visions will cost. Yet, at the same time, Gell recognizes she needs to know how it will all come, or weld, together…literally. And that's why she's going for an associate degree in welding at San Jacinto College, right up the road from her job at NASA – Johnson Space Center.
"My academics mean nothing here," said Gell, an experiment support scientist who works on the International Space Station Medical Project through Lockheed Martin. "If we're going to send humans to Mars, we're going to have to know how to fix our space craft if it is hit by debris while in space."
One of Gell's independent research projects is on welding and material processing technology that can be applicable to lunar, Martian, and asteroid exploration, in particular to mining on the moon to bring Helium - 3 or other resources back to Earth for energy purposes. Various universities have been interested in assisting with her project, said Gell, but what she's looking for are those hands-on skill sets.
"I need to know about the actual work that goes into this," said Gell. "Here in welding, it's back to square one. Here, I'm one of the guys, not a scientist. I need to know how to identify a good weld.”
Gell served as principal investigator for NASA’s research in exothermic welding in a reduced gravity environment. Exothermic welding is spot welding for repair jobs. She has also worked as a spacecraft systems engineer for Orion’s Landing and Recovery Systems team.
While spending her evenings at San Jacinto College learning about shielded metal art welding, gas tungsten art welding, and gas metal art welding, Gell may not realize she also serves as a role model to a number of students who are just starting their careers.
"Amber sets the bar pretty high at learning to weld, and the students enjoy the challenge," said Tivo Parras, Gell’s welding instructor. "With her education and training, she's really opened the eyes of some of the students. She’s an example of how anything can be done with hard work and desire."
During a recent trip to tour CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Gell admitted that she found herself checking for welds on the various scientific instruments. She shared her findings with her welding peers and Parras.
"Coming to class is one of the best ways to spend my evenings,” said Gell. "I love it. There are some amazing people here, providing for their families. Technicians have one common factor, and that is to be open minded for whatever trade they're in. In this industry, you gain respect with your skill.”
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. The Achieving the Dream Leader College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $630 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.
For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.