Parachute engineer, trumpet player, human test subject, space-food tester, adventure traveler, part-time educator, ultimate frisbee player—Jared Daum is all these things and more, but the theme that weaves through it all is his love of exploration and discovery.
The son of a music education major and an engineer, the choice of career was no simple matter for Daum. He studied music and practiced trumpet upwards of four hours a day all through high school, and it wasn’t something he was ready to give up when he entered college. But, partway through, the lure of aerospace drew him away.
Making the switch was not easy. Daum talked to person after person at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, refusing to be discouraged by uniform responses of “can’t be done.” Finally, on the verge of running out of doors to knock on, he found a sympathetic dean who said, “Yeah, we can make this work.”
Currently, Daum works with the Capsule Parachute Assembly System (CPAS) for Orion as a hardware and parachute engineer. Orion depends on a system of 11 parachutes in the final stages of decelerating from a re-entry speed of 20,000 mph to under 20 mph for splashdown.
Parachute lines and canopies are textiles.
“They behave a lot differently than metals or solid structures,” Daum said. “When we deploy our parachutes, there is a lot of uncertainty in what’s going to happen with them, so we have to do a lot of testing to make sure that no matter how they deploy, they don’t get damaged.”
For Daum and the CPAS team, that means thousands of simulations, along with a multitude of physical tests. Daum is currently testing what happens if the three main parachutes get twisted up and the load is transferred unequally between the groups of suspension lines, called risers. Another test involves scraping the risers against the Orion spacecraft to understand how much damage they can take and still land safely.
During a drop test of the Orion parachutes in Yuma, Arizona, Daum recalls looking up into the sky and watching all the parachutes deploy in sequence.
“Every little kid builds a parachute out of a grocery bag, and I just helped make a real parachute for a real spacecraft,” Daum said.
Daum’s entire career at Johnson Space Center thus far has been dedicated to Orion’s Entry, Descent and Landing systems, specifically parachutes and flight software, and he’s proud of the work he has done with the CPAS team.
“It’s a 20,000-pound rock coming back from outer space and landing gently in the ocean,” Daum said. “And my
work is directly contributing to it landing safely.”
During Orion’s Exploration Flight Test-1 in 2014, Daum was on call in mission control for the parachute system. Daum recalled the excitement of re-entry.
“First, there was the amazement of seeing the live images of the vehicle re-entering, which was unbelievable,” Daum said. “Then, as the parachutes started deploying, everything started happening really fast, and I was focusing on looking at the details of the deployment. As we were descending under the mains, we went through some clouds, which was very dramatic but really odd (since we don't run any of our drop tests when it is that cloudy). Then was the anticipation for the touchdown sequence, which was great when it performed well.”
One of the things he loves best about JSC is the variety of activities he can participate in. He is a sensory panelist for the Space Food Systems Laboratory, tasting space food for acceptability prior to flight. One year, he volunteered to staff the “Ask an Engineer” booth at Rocket Park. A chance meeting with a teacher that day led to him speaking regularly with students about NASA and Orion via video conferences for eight months. Daum also volunteers as a human test subject for the Human Health and Performance Directorate.
Daum was an early volunteer for the Human Exploration Research Analog, participating in a seven-day simulated mission to an asteroid. He came out of that experience profoundly moved, and said it was eye-opening to learn about all the things that scientists are concerned about for long-duration space travel.
“In a lot of specific engineering roles, unless you work on spacesuits or life support or something like that, you don’t deal a lot with the human aspect of spaceflight,” Daum said. “It’s very easy to bypass that experience as a hardware engineer. I think it’s important to get a view of the whole picture and just grasp the fact that you’re putting a human being, your brother or sister, in space.
“Having these opportunities to contribute to human spaceflight outside of my daily activities is probably the number one reason I plan to stick around. I don’t have to change jobs to do that kind of cool stuff,” Daum said.
These experiences have strengthened his passion for spaceflight and exploration.
“We’re here to send people to Mars,” Daum said. “When we get to Mars, it’s a worldwide effort and it’s going to benefit humanity. It’s cool to have that perspective and to work for an entity that’s all about the positives.”
What’s next? He still loves music and is learning to play the accordion, but it can’t compete with his love of exploration.
“I want to see where the future takes me,” Daum said. “I’d like to be a chief engineer of a big parachute program, a big project that returned something from Mars. That would be awesome.”
NASA Johnson Space Center
Testing parachutes in the 80 foot by 120 foot wind tunnel at NASA's Ames Research Center. Image Credit: Jared Daum.
Supporting Landing and Recovery Systems during EFT-1. Image Credit: NASA
Daum with the crew after a week-long mission in the Human Exploration Research Analog. Image Credit: NASA
Mountain biking near Big Bear Lake, CA. Image Credit: Jared Daum.