MIT Aero Astro -

December 2012

In this issue:
1. Newsbriefs
2. Welcome
3. Defenders
4. Seeing red
5. Zoning while droning
6. Up, up, and away with Unified
7. Specs for SPHERES
8. Videos intro, info display
9. Seen around the department

Jaime Peraire

David Mindell

Manuel Martinez-Sanchez

Paul Lagace

Dava Newman
Dava Newman

Carl Dietrich
Carl Dietrich

LevesonNancy Leveson



1. Newsbriefs

AeroAstro Department Head Professor Jaime Peraire has been named an AIAA Fellow. The distinction of Fellow is conferred upon AIAA members "who have made notable and valuable contributions to aeronautics and astronautics."

Professor David Mindell was awarded the AIAA Gardner Lasser Aerospace Literature Award for his book "Digital Apollo." Published by the MIT Press, the book "examines the design and execution of the six Apollo moon landings, drawing on transcripts and data telemetry from the flights, astronaut interviews, and NASA archives."

The Polytechnic University of Madrid has bestowed a Doctor Honoris Causa upon Professor Manuel Martinez-Sanchez. The university includes his alma mater, the School of Aeronautical Engineering. Manuel negotiated a student exchange program with UPM and sponsored two of its faculty for MIT visits, which resulted in a number of joint publications. He has also helped other Spanish universities create aerospace programs.

The American Society for Composites has presented Professor Paul Lagace with its 2012 Outstanding Research Award in Composites. An award winner is "a distinguished member of the composites community who has made a significant impact on the science and technology of composite materials through a sustained research effort over a number of years."

The November 2012 Popular Science cover story about spacesuits was largely based on Professor Dava Newman's BioSuit design. Dava is quoted throughout the article.

Popular Science cover

November 2012 Popular Science

Congratulations to AeroAstro alum Carl Dietrich for his selection as an Aviation Week "40 under 40." Carl (age 35) is a founder of Terrafugia, the company developing the first truly drivable airplane, (for which they have more than 100 orders) which founders began designing while AeroAstro students.

Professor Nancy Leveson has received notification that the National Defense Industry Press of Beijing will be publishing a Chinese simplified character version of her book "Engineering a Safer World."

Professor Hamsa Balakrishnan and Professor/former astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman have been named AIAA Associate Fellows. To be selected for the grade of Associate Fellow an individual must be an AIAA Senior Member with at least 12 years professional experience, and be recommended by a minimum of three current Associate Fellows. Also named was AeroAstro friend and advocate Dr. Debbie Douglas, curator at the MIT Museum.

Balakrishnan Hoffman

Hamsa Balakrishnan

Jeff Hoffman


2. Welcome

AeroAstro welcomes Florian Augustin, a new postdoc with Professor Youssef Marzouk.


3. The defenders

Congratulations to our latest batch of doctoral thesis defenders:

  • Amy Bilton, September 27, "A Modular Design Architecture for Application to Community-Scale Photovoltaic Reverse Osmosis Systems."
  • Stephen Gildea, October 12, "Development of the Plasma Thruster Particle-in-Cell Simulator to Complement Empirical Studies of a Low-Power Cusped-Field Thruster."
  • Frank Fan, October 25, "Improved Continuous-Time Higher Harmonic Control Using H-infinity Methods."
  • Megumi Matsutani, November 29, "Robust Adaptive Flight Control Systems in the Presence of Time Delay."


4. Seeing red

Was the Predator alien taking class photos? Professor John Hansman's Spacecraft and Aircraft Instrumentation students took an infra red image of themselves last month during an infra red sensing system class demo.

IFR image


5. Zoning while droning?

Piloting drones can be pretty dull — like a 12-hour shift watching and waiting while automated systems handle the basic tasks. AeroAstro Professor and former US Navy fighter pilot Mary (Missy) Cummings and her team have found a little distraction can greatly enhance drone pilot performance. See the MIT News story about the work the Humans and Automation Lab is doing to keep boredom at bay.


6. Up, up, and away

On October 27 AeroAstro Unified Engineering undergrad students launched a balloon that reached a 70,000' altitude. The balloon traveled 110 miles from the northwest corner of Massachusetts to central New Hampshire. The flight lasted just under three hours.

Payload included:
- Go Pro Hero2 Camera
- Balloon Boy Airborne Package with U-Blox GPS Module
- SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger
- Six MIT ID cards
- One MIT Class Ring

Grad teaching assistant Sydney Do made a video, which includes some great high altitude footage from the balloon.


16.001 with their high altitude balloon.


7. Specs for SPHERES

On October 25, a Soyuz spacecraft delivered to the International Space Station the Space Systems Lab's VERTIGO "goggles." VERTIGO attaches to SPHERES microsats (already on station) providing the capability to perform computer vision-based navigation research for satellite proximity operations. The goggles include stereo cameras, LED lights, an embedded computer running Linux, and a wireless network card. More about VERTIGO at

SPHERE (blue) wearing GOGGLES (red) in the SSL


8. Video intros, info display

If your lab or student group is making a department-related video, a good intro and outro adds a professional, finishing touch. We have both AeroAstro-themed intro and outro footage available for the asking. You can see them in this video (outro at 2:07). For the files, email

While we're on the subject of labs and student groups: consider taking advantage of the Building 33 flatscreen info displays in the second floor corridor and Seamans Lounge. Events, announcements, and recruitments are welcome. Just make us a 16:9 format ppt slide and we'll add it to the mix. Remember, slides should be simple, text minimal as the slides are only up for 10 seconds each. For assistance/advice or to submit a slide, email

rocket team slide
The Rocket Team uses the Bld 33 display to recruit members


9. Seen around the department


NOT JUST PLANES AND ROCKETS — At the December 11 Experimental Projects class (16.622) display, AeroAstro student Peter Florin describes his design for wind turbine ducting modifications that increase airflow and power output. Michael Lieu looks on.

.king kong

MONKEY BUSINESS — Discovered in our archive, this photo was taken in the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel during a 1975 pedestrian level wind study for the proposed Battery Park City development in New York.

open house

Doctoral candidate Stefanos Nikolaides explains his research on robotics-human interactive training to Dr. Alan Natapoff of the Man Vehicle Lab during the Interactive Robotics Lab's December 7 Open House.


AND YOU THOUGHT THEY WERE ON MARS — the Curiosity rover, sky crane, 'chutes, touchdown spot, and control team made it to the AeroAstro department Halloween party.



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© 2012 MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. All rights reserved.