Jessica Vos

Job Title

Spacecraft Systems Engineer for the Orion Program Vehicle Integration Office 

Employer

NASA Johnson Space Center

Location

Houston TX

Why did you decide to pursue an ASE degree?

I definitely have my dad to thank for kindling my interest in aerospace engineering. While growing up, our garage would house not only the usual car, extra fridge and deep freezer, but also a ginormous fancy telescope! Being from a relatively secluded small town in Alaska, we were fortunate enough to have several hours of darkness in the winter months, during which my dad would point the telescope at the moon, Mars, Venus, Saturn and various constellations in the evenings after school. He also helped me research and find answers to my space-related questions in his stash of Scientific American journals. So, that foundation combined with excellent high school teachers in the fields of math and science naturally led me to aerospace engineering and NASA as my career path.  

Describe your current position.

While most of my career at Johnson Space Center has involved designing, building, testing and operating crew systems and flight hardware in support of both ISS and Space Shuttle Programs, my current role is supporting the Vehicle Integration Office (VIO) for the Orion Program. I support multidisciplinary efforts that ensure that the Orion spacecraft and all of its systems are able to integrate within the crew module as well as with the service module, the SLS rocket systems, and the ground support systems at Kennedy Space Center.  

What do you like the most about your job? What do you find the most challenging?

I like that most of the problems we are faced with from a vehicle integration perspective are not very textbook, and often take a diverse suite of engineering expertise, general knowledge of how Orion’s systems function, and good leadership generate and implement the best solution. When designing specific spacecraft components like pumps, parachutes, thrusters, or sensors, you often find that the answers that you’re looking for have already been discovered and published in a textbook, but there’s no textbook on the Orion spacecraft and how it ingrates with the SLS rocket and ground systems! With each test you’re learning something new and seeing behaviors in systems that you didn’t necessarily expect. Figuring out what those deviations really mean and how to troubleshoot issues in the system to make it work properly to support the mission are exciting and challenging to me. 

If you participated in student projects and organizations, how did your experience in these groups help prepare you for your career?

I participated in NASA’s cooperative education program for a total of four “tours” (basically semesters), and was a part of the Cockrell School’s Women in Engineering Program. I also worked at Gregory Gym on campus most nights and weekends. Participating in a co-op is an interesting dynamic—you get away from school for a semester at a time and gain hands-on engineering experience while everyone else in your graduating class continues on in their studies, which means you usually graduate a year behind everyone that you started the degree program with. Still, I don’t know of anyone who participated in a co-op who would have it any other way, as the real-world experience gained is invaluable.

Do you recommend any particular focus for students other than academics to improve themselves as potential candidates for jobs?

In my experience it seems that high-performing teams are often made up of not only technical experts, but also well-rounded, curious, creative thinkers who also pursue interests and do things outside of work to support their communities, etc. We actually have several authors, musicians, volunteer fire fighters, youth sports coaches, and people who participate in theatre who work onsite, which is evidence of how much we value individuals who regularly exercise their artistic and creative sides. The day-to-day work, especially in engineering fields, can be very technical, bureaucratic and process-laden, so it’s super important to continually feed and nurture the creative and innovative sides of ourselves!

Are there any courses at UT you wish you had taken? If so, which ones and why

Oh for sure! When I graduated from high school I was pretty good at speaking Russian, as I had just completed a student exchange program there in the spring of my senior year. When I first got to UT I was definitely interested in continuing to learn Russian and perhaps even pursue it as a minor, but I became rather discouraged when I learned what the minimum requirements were to minor in a foreign language. At the time I thought there just wouldn’t be any way to squeeze in so many challenging credit hours in one semester. Then, a couple years later when I started co-oping at the Johnson Space Center I learned that several folks there speak fluent Russian for their jobs! Looking back I can’t help but feel that I really should have taken more initiative to navigate the minimum degree requirements, perhaps with some help from my guidance counselors and/or mentors, or at least find a group that I could practice speaking Russian with just to maintain and nurture that valuable skillset.

Why did you choose space engineering instead of atmospheric?

I definitely wanted to be exploring space—that was pretty much it. Whatever I was learning I wanted to apply it to a spacecraft and the human exploration of space rather than aircraft, despite the fact that my dad was a private pilot and an air traffic controller for the FAA. Ha!

Who were your most influential professors and why?

Both Dr. Varghese and Dr. Lightsey. Dr. Lightsey had previously worked for NASA, and I appreciated the way in which he taught real-world problem solving skills along with the fundamental principles, theories and math from the Orbital Mechanics textbook. If I had gone to graduate school instead of directly to work at NASA after earning my BS, it would have been in the field of Propulsion because of the way Dr. Varghese taught and conveyed the fascinating physics taking place in those equations in an applied manner. Also, he was (and still is!) a great mentor and awesome person to talk to about life in general.

What were your most influential ASE/EM courses and why

Orbital Mechanics and Propulsion. I was not a huge fan of C++, or any sort of programming in general.  

What is one piece of advice you have for current students?

Develop positive lifestyle habits that enable you to be the best version of yourself now, and always listen to your gut. If you’re shot down or declined for something in particular, don’t let that be the end of your story. If you still want it, keep seeking it. There’s always a way – just stay curious, keep asking and putting your intentions out there, and make it happen!

What are three things people don’t know about you?

  1. I love hiking, being outdoors and physical activity. (I’ve run 17 half marathons and counting!)

  2. In high school I flipped a four-wheeler while racing a friend along a gravel road.

  3. I have over 300 minutes of microgravity experience from flying on both the KC135 and the C9 (both commonly referred to as the “Vomit Comet”) for official job duties. 

 

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