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NASA comes to town

Before the world of spacecraft engineering was within his orbit, Prof David Buttsworth was deliberating over the prospect of embarking on a lengthy architecture degree. But when his academic stars aligned he found himself kick-starting a career in the ever-evolving realm of thermodynamics.

Professor David Buttsworth

Professor David Buttsworth

“It was really by default that I got enthusiastic about engineering and thermodynamics,” Prof Buttsworth recalls.

Now a key member of the mechanical engineering discipline at USQ, his contribution to the field has been internationally recognised by his recent involvement with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).

Prof Buttsworth was among a team of researchers from USQ and the University of Queensland invited by NASA to monitor the re-entry of the Japanese ‘Hayabusa’ spacecraft, a huge development in the space research field.

“Anything involved in flying through the atmosphere involves movement at very high speeds, and associated with that is very high temperatures.”

This is where his years of expertise in thermodynamics came into play.

“We all gathered in California and we spent a couple of weeks assembling our instruments and making sure that they were going to work as planned on the aircraft.”

During this once in a lifetime opportunity, Prof Buttsworth witnessed firsthand the spacecraft re-entering the South Australian desert on June 13, 2010.

“This spacecraft has been on a long journey; it went to visit an asteroid in a belt just beyond Mars,” he points out.

Whilst acknowledging that research involves patience and perseverance, Prof Buttsworth remains motivated by enjoying each day to the full.

“I guess I’m motivated quite significantly by immediate job satisfaction … I’m interested in being happy to come to work, and doing sensible and useful things while I’m at work on a day-to-day basis.”

Prof Buttsworth is inspired by advancements in flight, space and the universe.

“It’s high-speed flow research that really excites me. I mean, the notion of travelling at tens of kilometres per second through the atmosphere is mind-boggling.”

For vocational inspiration, Prof Buttsworth looks to fellow engineers.

“People who have really inspired me are those who are able to do both academic engineering work, and also can get into the laboratory and get their hands dirty, so to speak,” he explains.

“My hope is that young engineers might be inspired by the sorts of things that we are able to do here in Toowoomba and will ultimately see Toowoomba as a good option for doing exciting engineering work.”