A Temporary Position Becomes an Exceptional Career
Erwin Zaretsky Erwin Zaretsky sits in front of a 500-horsepower helicopter transmission test stand holding a spiral beveled gear in the Engine Research Building at the NASA Glenn Research Center. Zaretsky advocated the development of this test stand in 1974, and it has become the mainstay of helicopter transmission research at the center. Credit: NASA
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When Erwin Zaretsky interviewed with NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), in 1957, he was looking for a temporary position. About to graduate college as a mechanical engineer and U.S. Air Force Officer, he was scheduled for active duty later that year.

Little did he know that after a year and a half of duty in Asia, the Air Force would re-station him right back where he was when he left -- at the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland. In 1960, Zaretsky completed his active military service and joined NASA's civilian staff as a Materials Research Engineer. What began as a short-term job then blossomed into a rewarding career.

"The depth of technical expertise here was immense," Zaretsky said. "The people were outstanding, the work was a challenge, and we were making contributions that had an impact."

He believes one of his biggest contributions was improving rolling-element bearings for aircraft engines. In the 1950s, experts predicted that the speed and temperature of aircraft engine bearings would increase dramatically over the coming decades. To address the predicted increase, Zaretsky and his colleagues set out to develop ball and roller bearings that would run faster, withstand higher temperatures and last longer.

"By 1973, we achieved bearings temperatures up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. They operated two times faster and lasted 40 times longer than when we started," Zaretsky said. "All that technology is flying in commercial and military aircraft today."

As aeronautics evolved so did the agency that advanced it. Today, NACA Lewis is NASA's Glenn Research Center, and the young man who was looking for temporary employment is Chief Engineer in the Materials and Structures Division. He has developed patented technology, earned numerous awards, published two books and more than 180 papers, and traveled all over the world as a speaker.

"It’s been a nice experience," Zaretsky said. "I don’t think I could have done that anywhere but NASA."

Jan M. Wittry (SGT, Inc.)