February 03, 2013

He declared on his résumé, somewhat ambitiously, that he was seeking a job in advanced spacecraft design.

Photo by Jono Rotman. Note how the title copy mirrors the rover model in the photograph. Nice work by the design team.

The Hardest Thing to Do in Space by Mike Sager
Esquire, December 2012

Loved this profile on Tom Rivellini, whose NASA team placed the Curiosity Rover on Mars last year after 10+ years' hard work. The opening paragraph explains how Rivellini (a Syracuse alum!) got his start:

When Tom Rivellini was finishing his master's degree in aerospace engineering, he declared on his résumé, somewhat ambitiously, that he was seeking a job in "advanced spacecraft design."

This was 1991; the Berlin Wall had recently fallen, the so-called Evil Empire was kaput, the space race and Star Wars weaponry were looking a lot less mission critical. President Bush and Congress had pulled back funding for the aerospace industry; it was a hard time for a guy who admittedly loved difficult math problems and groan-worthy puns and pocket protectors full of colored markers. After a few months of hearing "No, we don't have anything," Rivellini revised his CV.

Advanced spacecraft design? That's kind of cheesy, he told himself. Nobody actually calls it that in the real world. 

Then one day, his career counselor at the University of Texas, Austin, suggested he try NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. A native of upstate New York, the son of Italian-immigrant parents, he'd attended Syracuse University as an undergrad. Ugh, he thought, California.

Reluctantly, he called JPL, the federally funded space-research-and-development center managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology. After being passed around a few times, he finally got a person on the business side. One of the group supervisors, she said, was "actually looking for somebody."
"What's the name of his group?" Rivellini asked.
"Advanced Spacecraft Design."

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