My first taste of shaping materials to purpose was learning to weld when I was 16 years old. A family friend was a professional welder, and he brought his MIG set to my grandma’s house to show me the basics. The electricity moved through the wire and metal, and the bead glowed like the sun in my hands while slag flew in every direction. Who wouldn’t be hooked?!
For 5 years, I worked as a diesel mechanic in Seattle. Every day I learned how to let the machines tell me why they weren’t working. My boss and mentor, Scott, was patient enough to explain how the machines worked when they were being shy or deceptive about their malfunction. So many machines, so many configurations and so many ways to bring the inanimate to life! I worked with large trucks, hydraulic systems, electrical power units, forklifts and just about everything in between. In many cases, the elements of design that I studied were failures – repeated repairs needed where a bit of forethought would have saved hours of hassle.
Throughout my time working as a mechanic, I completed my degree in aerospace engineering. The mathematics behind the movement of interplanetary spacecraft, the efficiency of power conversion and the shaping of plasma within magnetic fields- it was all so incredible and within reach!
Eventually this work enabled me to work for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, where I oversaw launch and reentry licensing for the SeaLaunch Zenit 3SL and SpaceX Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon vehicles. I was assigned to the SeaLaunch command ship for the Galaxy 19 mission (you can see the ship in the opening sequence of Captain America: The Winter Soldier). I was also sent to Kwajalein Atoll (below) for the SpaceX F1-005 mission in the mid Pacific, where I saw a new chapter being written in the history of space flight.
These days, I apply the elements of design to my work as a prebiotic chemist as I work to uncover how life originated on our planet. The disciplines, though seemingly unrelated, have opened up new ways of looking at the origins of life.