It took Celeste and me 11 years to realize that we could play a role within NASA. We had gotten good grades in math and science in high school, but there was simply no encouragement for us as women to go into engineering. That is one of the primary reasons I am involved in educational outreach today. Young girls need to realize their potential, to set their goals and aspirations high, and to visualize all of the possibilities in their future. They need to understand that woman do have a place at NASA.
I found out about engineering through a career counselor at Thomas Nelson Community College and, by June 2, 1980, when Celeste and I took our oaths as civil servants, we had studied electrical engineering and decided that we wanted to conduct research with the potential to save lives. What a thrill it was passing through the gate at NASA’s Langley Research Center for the first time and realizing that my life’s work was about to begin!
Not long after I came to Langley, there were several airplane accidents attributable to wind shear. That’s been drastically reduced by NASA-developed, look-ahead warning systems that I worked on. My research was in the area of flight controls. I attempted to design an auto-land system that could penetrate wind shear. A senior researcher and I were successful in creating such a system and testing it in simulation.
Over the past 30 years I have had many opportunities to work on difficult problems through individual research and leadership of research teams. My greatest technical accomplishment has been developing a mathematical modeling method for analyzing the impact of uncertainties on aircraft control systems. My greatest leadership accomplishments thus far have been in leading research in the Control Upset Prevention and Recovery (CUPR) and Damage Adaptive Control Systems (DACS) projects within the NASA Aviation Safety and Security Program. We developed advanced models to simulate upset conditions in transport aircraft under CUPR. The work has drawn international interest from aircraft simulation manufacturers for its potential use in crew training. The DACS Project, initiated following the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, addressed the risk of a shoulder-fired missile strike against a commercial transport by characterizing damage effects and developing controls to mitigate those effects. More recently, Celeste and I collaborated on research for preventing aircraft loss-of-control accidents. Part of the research included the development of the Airborne Subscale Transport Aircraft Research Testbed. This testbed enables flight experiments under high-risk loss-of-control conditions that could not be performed in crewed aircraft.
Celeste and I worked in parallel aeronautical research for years. My work was in mitigation of adverse conditions; hers was in detecting the adverse conditions. In 2000-2005, we were selected for technical leadership of research teams involved in the initial NASA Aviation Safety Program, which evolved into the Aviation Safety and Security Program after Sept. 11. It was the first time that we could collaborate on companion elements for improving safety!
This was the happiest time of my career. It was followed by the saddest. In 2007, Celeste and I had decided to collaborate on aircraft loss-of-control accident prevention and developed a holistic strategy for addressing the problem. In 2008, I lost her, only 6 months after we learned that she had cancer. She was my twin, my friend, a colleague, a researcher, a technical leader, and the greatest influence on my life. Going on without her has been very difficult. But, I am continuing the research that she and I started and feel she is still with me, helping me.
For three decades I have conducted research at Langley, which has supported me in every way. That support has helped me overcome the only barriers an engineer should have to overcome: technical ones for which we find solutions.
I feel it is particularly important that girls have professional role models. I have shared my NASA research accomplishments and career through outreach efforts in hopes of inspiring young girls, raising their self esteem, and sharing the excitement of being part of NASA.
This is what I voice to the girls I mentor: “Never limit yourselves in deciding what to do with your lives. You can be anything you want to be, and your dreams can be a reality with hard work and persistence. Set your goals high and, when you reach them, make every attempt to contribute something positive to the world.”
This is the path that I have taken in my life and in a career that I hope encourages young women to reach for the stars.
Christine Belcastro long aspired to become an engineer but, as a female, thought the door was closed to her. Imagine her thrill when a college counselor enabled her to cross the threshold into NASA as an electrical engineer. Today, Ms. Belcastro saves lives by performing aviation safety research. During her career at NASA, Ms. Belcastro worked on several life-saving technologies, from aircraft wind-shear warning systems to math modeling for aircraft control systems. For Ms. Belcastro, no tangible award is so great as the intangible reward of sharing today with girls still in school and in the Girl Scouts. She uses this motivation to inspire the next generation to share in the excitement she experienced when she opened the door to an engineering career at NASA. Ms. Belcastro received her BS in electrical engineering and MS in engineering from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va., and a PhD in electrical engineering from Drexel University, Philadelphia, Penn.