Headed to Hollywood

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 26, 2009

Colin Brooks is a self-described “NASA-geek,” whose musical hobby has earned him a gig in Hollywood.

The Andalusia High School graduate works for Jacobs Engineering as a contractor for NASA on site at Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville. He’s an aerothermal analyst.

A what?

“We focus mainly on quantifying the heating loads induced on spacecraft by aerodynamic friction during the ascent and reentry phases of flight and by plumes from rocket motors (both control motors and launch motors),” he explained. “I am focused mostly on Ascent Aerodynamic heating for Ares I. Our heating rates are then passed along to thermal analysts who decide how much Thermal Protection System (TPS) to apply to the vehicles in certain locations.”

Recently, he worked with the first test flight of the Constellation Program, Ares I-X. His team analyzes motor firing tests and wind tunnel tests along with Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) models.

“Ares I-X was the first full-scale test we have been a part of,” he said. “The real-time data at actual flight conditions is invaluable to us as we try to piece together a story of how the vehicle behaves,” he said.

“I basically kept a list of the over 150 discrete measurement gauges that we requested on the vehicle and along with Bob Bender, tracked them from concept to installation,” he said. “This required several trips to other NASA centers in Ohio (Glenn Research Facility) and Florida (Kennedy Spaceflight Center) and also to the ATK Solid Propellant factory in Utah to coordinate with the test engineers and the technicians actually putting the gauges on the vehicle.”

He has been involved in this effort for more than two years, and said the details can become overwhelming.

“Suffice it to say that I basically kept track of all the sensors that my team is using to physically measure heating rates and pressures on Ares I-X,” he said.

Growing up, Brooks was always a “lego kid.” A trip to space camp sealed the rocket-scientist deal for him.

“When a member of my church, Berta Farris, sent a group of youths to Space Camp in 5th grade it pretty much sealed the deal that I was going to be a NASA geek the rest of my life,” he said. “At Auburn (where he earned an aerospace engineering degree), I also had a professor, Col. James Voss, who was a former astronaut. That added fuel to the fire.

“By the time I got out of Space Mission Design with Col. Voss, there was no other career choice for me,” he said. “You make more money building bombs, but I wanted to put people back on the moon!”

And he personally hopes NASA will do just that.

“For years there has been a debate about science vs. exploration,” he said. “The hard-line scientists argue that droids and rovers and robots can do the same thing Apollo astronauts did on the moon at a fraction of the cost, and in these times of economic turmoil it’s hard to argue against that.

“However, it’s not the robots that turned a 5th grader’s head. And it’s not the robots that had a 21-year-old guy sitting rapt in a classroom, jaw agape, like a 12-year-old at a Hannah Montana concert.

“What I’m saying is that for me, personally, it’s the ‘human’ drama of actual people risking their lives to go someplace new that makes NASA important to all Americans,” he explained. “Robots may well can do the science, but it’s the astronauts that inspire. So I don’t really know what the future holds, but I hope that we continue to send people up to look around.”

Most wouldn’t expect a rocket scientist to also be an artist, but in his spare time, Brooks sings vocals for Seducing Alice, a group that’s been together for about four years, performing mostly in Birmingham and Huntsville.

“People that meet me at shows have a hard time seeing me as a desk jockey and people at work don’t believe that I’m in a band until I show them a paper with our name in it,” he said. “I don’t really have a problem with the duality of it, though. The guy on stage is a completely different person than the one sitting through meetings all day. The personalities may be different but I don’t think either of them would survive without the other.”

The group – which also includes Alex Dieterich (guitar, piano and vocals), Kipp Cain (guitar and vocals), John Eberhart (bass) and Josh Doyle (drums) – plays a mix of upbeat covers and originals that you can dance to.

“We try and stay away from the same old top 40 stuff you hear in bars, but we still throw in a few favorites now and again,” he said. “On a given night you can hear everything from The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers Band to Reel Big Fish and Cake with many delightful digressions in between. One of my favorite things to do between songs is quote Monty Python, saying,  ‘Now for something completely different!’”

In January, Seducing Alice is the headline act at the historic Roxy Theater on Sunset Boulevard.

“It’s up there on the list of venerable venues that bands all over the country would give their right arms to play,” he said. “To say we are excited would be an understatement of epic proportions.”

And the Auburn fan and grad said, “As much as it pains me to admit, I guess we have Nick Saban to thank…in a roundabout way for the gig.”

“Three band members are Alabama grads and one decided since he was going to LA for the game, he would see if he could find the band a gig.

“Turns out there was a lot of interest in having a band from Alabama host an Alabama After Party following the National Championship Game on Thursday.

“When everyone heard that the Roxy wanted us, even Josh and I (the Aubies, as the other guys call us) got excited about it,” he said.

The group goes on at 11:30 p.m., leaving plenty of time for ‘Bama fans to get from the Rose Bowl to Sunset Boulevard, he said.

Tickets are available from his parents, Bob and Denise Brooks, at the hardware or can be ordered from the band’s myspace page with a credit card.

The myspace address is www.myspace.com/seducingalice.