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Amie Allison, NASA and JAXA


Today is the birthday of Amie Lorsung Allison, who graduated from NDSU with an electrical engineering degree in 1995. In 2003, her alma mater honored her with the NDSU Alumni Horizon Award for her work with the space program.

“I looked for a college,” she says, “that had a good engineering program and offered internships with NASA. I narrowed it down to NDSU and the University of Minnesota. NDSU was close to home and offered reciprocity to Minnesotans. Also, I didn’t have a car until much later, so I wanted to live in a city where I could walk or ride bike. When I visited the NDSU campus, I decided I liked it.”

Allison was attracted to space from a young age. “I grew up in Long Prairie, MN,” she says, “where there is not much light pollution in the evening. I lived near the city golf course, and many nights I would go out to look up at the night sky, just full of stars and galaxies. It was probably because of those nights that I decided I wanted to work at NASA and have a chance to explore space. I knew humans would continue traveling farther and farther in space, and I wanted to be a part of it. And especially see how far it would take me!”

Amie says that when she started attending NDSU, her dad proudly told everyone his daughter was “taking up space in the classroom.” After two years, NDSU helped her get an internship at NASA, and from 1992 to 1995, she bounced between Fargo and the Johnson Space Center.

“I ended up staying in every female and coed dorm at NDSU,” she says, “and many different apartments around Fargo, since I interned every other semester. I remember my first week in Texas. I drove down with a fellow NDSU student, who was also interning, and we lived together in Houston. Her car broke down a week after we started work, probably because the long drive from Fargo was too much for it. We didn’t know many people yet, so we had to walk everywhere in an area we didn’t know well (which made looking for a new car tough). We wanted to be so professional and make a good impression at our first weeks at work, but we found just getting to work and back became the big challenge.”

Allison says working with NASA engineers made her want to work harder in school, since she was learning things she wanted to apply while interning. And, it appears NASA made good use of Amie’s talents. “My most memorable professional moment was working on the electrical system of a Russian Emergency Return Vehicle,” she says. “I remember talking to the older Russian engineers and thinking, ‘They don’t know that they’re talking to an intern,’ and that felt good.”

Amie now spends roughly half her time in Japan working with JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency. In 2007, JAXA plans to launch two modules and an exposed facility to be attached to the International Space Station. These will be operated, along with many experiments, by a flight control team in Japan; Allison’s the only American member. She is helping with training and to develop procedures and flight rules that can be used for making quick decisions.

“I’ve learned much from the Japanese,” she says. “I better appreciate the flexibility and creative thinking of America – I believe, in part, due to our legal and cultural freedoms and variety of people. But, I also admire how the Japanese are one with the environment and are generous and selfless. So, I’m learning to work with the best of both environments,” she says. “After I feel like I’ve contributed all I can to this program, I’ll move on to my next space project. I hope Mars!”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm