Bringing students to the stars

Experiences

Bringing students to the stars

Michael Lembeck

February 5, 2021

Michael Lembeck is a Clinical Associate Professor in Aerospace Engineering

 

Research and opportunities at Illinois

Growing up in the Apollo era, I experienced firsthand how the space program can bring the world together and wanted to play a role in bringing that vision to reality. After spending over 40 years in industry and government, I returned to Illinois to "give back" a little to the next generation of aerospace engineers, just as my mentors helped me get off to a great start. Space is ubiquitous in our daily lives, from the weather reports we listen to in the morning, to guiding our vehicles with GPS, to assessing crop and urban resources, even to the transmission of credit card transactions we make throughout the day. Students today have the opportunity in our Laboratory for Advanced Space Systems at Illinois (LASSI) to design, build, and launch small spacecraft into low earth orbit and, hopefully soon, to the moon as well. It is very rewarding to work with a diverse group of students of all disciplines on these projects as they creatively innovate and meet the challenges presented to them.

Courtesy of Michael Lembeck
Courtesy of Michael Lembeck

 

LASSI is representative of the kinds of interdisciplinary research GCOE is know for. Students from many departments, including AE, ECE, MechSE, Physics, and Chem E find a home here working on our spacecraft projects. Our diverse team is made up of self-starters, working together to solve challenging problems. Across campus, I have also had to opportunity to work collaboratively with Physics, Industrial & Enterprise Systems Engineering, and Civil Engineering professors to bring space-based resources to bear on their individual areas of research. Recently, I had the pleasure of supporting Lara Waldrop in ECE in her winning effort to bid on a major NASA spacecraft development. Such interactions get you to think differently and find new approaches to doing research.

Courtesy of Michael Lembeck
Courtesy of Michael Lembeck

 

Influential people

Coming back to Illinois late in my career, the academic learning environment is somewhat different than what I was used to in industry. Consequently, guidance I have received from Zach Putnam, Huy Tran, Harry Hilton, and others has been invaluable in setting up courses and working with students to achieve their objectives. I've also had the pleasure of working with many of the giants of the American Space Program, including Max Faget and CC Johnson. My thesis advisor, S.M. Yen probably gave me the best piece of advice I ever received in my career: "It is important to be quick in finding solutions, but you must also be accurate when doing so." That pretty much sums up what it means to be an engineer.

 

A word of advice

I recommend to all of my students to cherish the relationships they are building now on campus, for those relationships will follow them throughout their careers. I also tell them what I wish I could go back and tell myself: "Don't be in a hurry to leave here. These are some of the best years of your life."

 

Giving back

I have established a scholarship fund for students with a passion for the space program. I am motivated to see future generations continue to move out into space, make great discoveries, and maybe learn a little bit about ourselves in the process when we inevitably encounter other life forms on future expeditions into the great unknown.

Photo taken June 22, 2009. Left to right: Michael Lembeck (BS '80, MS '81, PhD '91), astronaut Steven Nagel (BS ’69), U of I advancement officer Brett Clifton, astronaut Scott Altman, (BS ’81), and astronaut Lee Archambault (BS ’82, MS ’84)
Photo taken June 22, 2009. Left to right: Michael Lembeck (BS '80, MS '81, PhD '91), astronaut Steven Nagel (BS ’69), U of I advancement officer Brett Clifton, astronaut Scott Altman, (BS ’81), and astronaut Lee Archambault (BS ’82, MS ’84)