Alumna of the Issue: Abigail Ryan ’05


Abigail Ryan ’05 currently works on Advanced Fuel Cells as a Senior Project Engineer in the Propulsion and Power Division of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Johnson Space Center.

What do you do as an engineer for NASA?

Right now, I’m managing the fuel cell group. Fuel cells are a power system that take in hydrogen and oxygen and create power and water. When I came to NASA six years ago, I started working on a space shuttle, and I worked on fuel cells, sitting in Mission Control, and just kind of monitoring how the fuel cells were doing in flight. I did that for the last eight missions of the shuttle program, and ever since then I have been working on advanced fuel cells to use on the moon or on R-rated Mars, so fuel cells that take in dirty reactants like methane, because we can make methane on Mars.

What has been the coolest experience of your job so far?

I don’t think anything beats sitting in Mission Control. I think the coolest thing I got to do was the very last mission… I got to say “fuel cells are go” for the very last launch, which was really cool. It’s kind of nerdy, but that was my favorite thing.

How has NASA differed from what you expected?

So I think I didn’t really understand fully what working for the government meant. NASA is part of the federal government, so that means I was part of the shutdown two years ago, so I got laid off for two and a half weeks while Congress was getting their stuff together. You don’t really realize how at the whim of Congress you are, and it makes it hard to get your money, and it makes it hard to continue your projects. [You have] to convince a congressman you’re doing a good job, and they don’t always have backgrounds in engineering. I think that part is really hard and very different.