29-year-old NASA engineer going where no one has gone before

Tuesday - 6/18/2013, 11:16am EDT

Manan Vyas, research engineer, NASA

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Manan Vyas is just three years out of graduate school, but the 29-year-old research engineer at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland has already achieved two significant technical feats in the field of aeronautics.

The first innovation allows for more effective and realistic testing of high-speed aircraft and space vehicles. The other will assist the Air Force in retesting a hypersonic engine that had previously failed to ignite and provide propulsion for an experimental aircraft.

Manan Vyas, research engineer, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

"Manan's work has helped us understand the differences between actual flight and the simulated environment, which before his work was unknown," said Dhanireddy Reddy, chief of NASA's Aeropropulsion Division.

For his work, the Partnership for Public Service named Vyas a finalist for the 2013 Service to America Medals in the Call to Service category, which honors the contributions of the new generation of public servants.

Vyas was recently interviewed on In Depth with Francis Rose. He also answered the following questions about himself and his career in the federal government.

What three words best describe your leadership philosophy?
Lead by example.

What's the best piece of advice (or words of wisdom) you've ever received and who gave it to you?
I don't think I can attribute this to one person, but the idea that "I must do better today than yesterday," has been the best piece of advice.

Who is your biggest role model and why?
First, my parents for showing me the value of hard work, honesty and empathy for others. Second, Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-American astronaut. I identified with her and understood anything is possible. And third, many others who have inspired me time and again.

What's the last thing you read and what's next on your reading list?
The last book I read was "Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-Francois Champollion" by Andrew Robinson and I am reading "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

What's your favorite bureaucratic phrase?
Not so much a phrase but the words "upper management" always amuse me when used.

The Call to Service Medal is just one of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) presented annually by the Partnership for Public Service. View a gallery of all the Sammies nominees here.