Madison Maloney is a senior aerospace engineering major from Greenville, NC, and a 2018 Goldwater Scholar. Chosen twice as an Astronaut Scholar, Maloney is pursuing her passion for space exploration and hopes to follow in the footsteps of a fellow female NC State engineer with her eyes on the stars.
When did you become interested in space exploration?
In middle school. Initially, I kept my dream to myself, as I thought my goals would seem crazy to my peers, given that there is no space industry in Eastern North Carolina and I did not know a single engineer. All the while, I studied documentaries on the history of NASA, woke up in the middle of the night to watch launches on my computer and read as many astronaut biographies as I could. In 2013, the dream transitioned into a goal that I have been passionately pursuing since, when fellow Eastern North Carolinian and NC State alumna Christina Koch was chosen as an astronaut candidate. Her selection meant the world to me.
Why did you choose to attend NC State?
NC State has felt like home since the first time I toured as a high school student, and the Park Scholarship sealed the deal for me. Our university has what I once heard summed up as “small school feel, big school opportunities.” Students can choose to make NC State feel more like a small school environment by becoming involved in various student organizations, connecting with faculty members for mentorship or collaboration and finding their niche within the community. Simultaneously, they have the ability to access an extremely large alumni network, make use of world-class facilities and experience the thrill of ACC athletics.
What kind of undergraduate research have you participated in during your time at NC State?
My research has revolved around two main categories: system evolvability and advanced materials with aerospace applications. Through my work with system evolvability in the System Design Optimization Lab, I have focused on systems such as the International Space Station, CubeSats (a type of miniature satellite), dart guns and space suits. My work relating to advanced materials at NASA Langley Research Center focused on guided wave cure monitoring for composite materials.
You plan to pursue a Ph.D. in astronautics and aeronautics. What are your career plans after graduation?
After earning a Ph.D., I hope to work at NASA as a researcher focused on the human-technology interactions enabling deep space exploration. Unmanned exploration of planets such as Mars has been going on for decades, but adding humans to the equation is a game changer. As we look to Mars and beyond, utilizing the strengths of humans and robotic technology, while also ensuring effective integration, is going to be imperative.
Do those plans include a trip to outer space or engineering work on the ground?
Hopefully both. My ultimate dream is to become an astronaut, as I believe it is one of the most exciting and dynamic jobs in (and out) of this world. It is truly an exciting time in the realm of space exploration, and I hope to push the field forward in whatever role allows me to contribute the most.