From Earth into space, Bryan Kubitschek’s engineering career is soaringBy Phil Carter
Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo because that’s how you find new solutions in the engineering world.Growing up, one of Bryan Kubitschek’s passions was rocketry. Building and setting model rockets into the air is something many children enjoy but now Kubitschek’s hobby is his life, working as a materials research engineer for NASA.Bryan Kubitschek Civil Engineering Graduate
“I followed my passion,” said Kubitschek, a civil engineering graduate (2014, 2017) who is a native of Lincoln. “For me, it was always about curiosity and not being afraid to challenge myself or preconceived notions.”
While UNL doesn’t have an aerospace engineering major, the College of Engineering features the Nebraska Aerospace Club, which fueled and honed Kubitschek’s rocketry interest further. Another mentor was his physics teacher at Lincoln Southeast High School, Jake Winemiller, who provided Kubitschek with confidence and motivation to solve problems.
“Growing up, I’d say I was always an experimental guy,” noted Kubitschek, who works at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. “Those environments at Southeast and UNL Aerospace Club molded and matured my research skills. I was among a group of students who were in the lab every day, except for Saturdays. Those days were reserved for Husker football games.”
In just a few short years at NASA, Kubitschek has earned distinction for his research, including the best paper award at the 37th Joint Army Navy NASA Air Force (JANNAF) Interagency Propulsion Committee Conference. His paper in the Air Breathing Propulsion Subcommittee studied the thermal effects on advanced carbon-carbon.
“Advanced carbon-carbon composites are of interest for hot structure applications in Earth re-entry environments,” Kubitschek pointed out. He said many materials in his research are often tested at more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I work with a team that characterizes complex material properties for use in extreme conditions,” he explained. “We obtain empirical data on the material’s performance in thermomechanical and aerothermal environments. Once we are satisfied with the material quantification, we provide the data to other engineers for use in vehicle design. A recent example is an adaptation of carbon-carbon used for thermal management on the Parker Solar Probe.”
It’s an exciting time to be part of the space exploration industry as NASA and SpaceX ready for new missions to the moon and Mars. Kubitschek, who as a huge sports fan is used to Husker football watch parties, recently attended a watch party to see the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover land in February.
“It was a very exciting moment to see Perseverance land,” he described. “But the goal is to see humans back on the Moon and then on Mars. With the increase in private-public partnerships sharing the burden of these risky missions, the goal seems more realistic than ever.”
Although his job has him reaching for the stars, Kubitschek’s loyalties remain grounded as he continues to keep in touch with Winemiller and do work for Winemiller’s website, Nerdsinc.com, which helps school teachers teach STEM-related projects. He also maintains a fierce loyalty to Nebraska and where he grew up.
“I’m still early in my career but I’ve come a long way,” he said. “My contributions in all the research we’re doing here on structures and materials stems from what I learned a long time ago: don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo because that’s how you find new solutions in the engineering world.”