Transcript: Space4U podcast, Kevin J. DeBruin
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
Hello. I am Colleen Kiernan with the Space Foundation and you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the amazing people who make today’s space exploration possible. Today. We are joined by Kevin J. DeBruin. Kevin is a space educator. He brings space down to Earth for all of us in a creative and entertaining way.
Kevin is a former NASA JPL rocket scientist, author of To NASA and Beyond, TEDx speaker, American Ninja warrior, and Curiosity Stream’s brand ambassador for all things, space and science. Kevin has a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Platteville and a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Kevin. Yeah, thanks for having me on Colleen and looking forward to our conversation. Absolutely. So, one of the things we always like to know right off the bat is how did you find your passion for science and space? My passion for space comes from the movies, I guess a lot of people’s do you know, we hear stories of Star Trek or Star Wars, and nowadays with The Martian.
Well, mine, isn’t a super big level movie like that blockbuster style, but when I was 10 years old, I saw the movie October Sky. Are you familiar with that one? I am. Yeah. So I saw that I was just sitting cross legged on my living room floor. I remember this like it was yesterday and I’m just like, whoa, this movie’s cool.
Like this guy’s building rockets. And eventually it works for NASA. And it was, that is the moment that I call my defining moment and knew I wanted to design spaceships. That was more on the engineering side. Right. For the science side of things. It didn’t really hit home science-wise so chemistry, biology, physics, geology of the sorts until grad school.
And when I first learned about Europa, yeah, I worked on the Europa missions at JPL, but I didn’t know until I was like 20 or 23 years old, something like that. Crazy. But it was at that point where it was, oh, this place has the most potential for aliens in our solar system that I really got interested into the science behind it, learning that geology, chemistry and physics is universal.
And we’ve seen that everywhere, but that we haven’t seen biology off of Earth. A second genesis is that life, as we know it universal, that was the biggest. Huh, the spark of curiosity engineering when I was 10 and the 23 was like science.
Okay. Now I need to dive deeper into this. And it really helped me do my job better and communicate with the other engineers and the scientists for designing these missions. If I actually truly understood the science behind it and not just, yeah, I’ll give you something that can keep a sample cold at 20 degrees Celsius or zero degrees Celsius.
But I don’t really need to know why or why is the, the horizontal velocity supposed to only be four meters per second when we’re landing? What does that mean with the science data that we’re trying to take at the time? So, yeah, it was like when I was like 23 in grad school, I guess that the science stuff switch flipped.
Just thinking back on it in high school, I actually dropped my chemistry class and chose to be a gym aid instead of the chips. That’s the smartest move for someone to try and be not NASA, rocket scientist. Right. But I think you really hit an important note there because I had a job in high school where I was actually a tour guide at a cave.
And it was kind of very similar to what you’re talking about. You know, you could give people the facts and the figures, but I never knew why. And it wasn’t until they taught me how to do kids programs for third graders, that they broke it down into the science of how caves formed. And it was the light bulb just went off and I was like, I get it now.
And I did, I felt kind of like, Oh, I’m probably a little too old to just now be understanding. But sometimes that happens, these can be really complex things. And sometimes it’s being explained in a different way or whatever that it, it gives us that light bulb spark of a moment. Yeah. I like to say it’s always okay to be today years old when you learn something new.
I was today years old when I learned that, probably you learned that when I was 12, but here I am 30 with this new information. But like they say, you know, we learn something new every day, so that’s awesome. It’s always a curiosity. Give me more. Absolutely. Now you’ve faced a lot of different challenges growing up.
Tell our audience a little bit about them and how you faced them. Yeah. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. It’s called Kaukauna and has about like 10,000 people. So my dreams of working for NASA, weren’t really supported, I guess, throughout my community, we were surrounded by beer, cheese, dairy farms. Like that was the thing, agriculture.
So when people ask me, Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to do? Just, you know, when you’re a little elementary school kid, but in middle school, high school, and even in college, it’s like, I’m going to work for NASA. One day, people would literally laugh at me. What are you talking about?
No one leaves here. It’s not the, like the Smallville town, but to say, I am going to work for NASA where no one in my town really leaves was probably the most challenging thing because. At that point, I’m young. I don’t really know the world. Right? When we’re young, we have those aspirations and imaginations before society tells us what we can and cannot do.
So probably overcoming that surrounding peer environment that wasn’t being supportive. Probably the hardest thing that I’ve had to overcome, kind of looking back on it with, you know, all the internship applications and rejections from schools and from NASA over the years, I’ve really never thought back that far until right now, of how difficult escaping, uh, what I’m supposed to do.
Quote, unquote bubble really was, we’ve been talking to a lot of people about these bubbles and boxes that the expectations that we’re supposed to get. And so I think it’s really important for our listeners to hear that it doesn’t have to be that way, but we do, we hear it all the time and how society is.
And so I think it’s always huge for, especially, maybe some of our young and maybe not-so-young listeners know you don’t have to follow that same path that worked for someone else or that someone else did, that you can really make your own. Exactly. And for the not-so-young listeners I’ll share this: My first NASA internship was that NASA Langley Virginia, the research center there, and the other intern with me, there was 50 years old.
That’s how I’m like 22 at this point. And I’m interning with a 50-year-old who had a change of heart and wanted to pursue a different passion. And NASA hired him too. Right now, you’re thinking, cool. You can chase this dream, but then to get hired by NASA at 50, as you’re changing careers, it’s never too late, which is so important.
I think for all of us to just think about we’ve changed careers so many times in our lifetimes. Sometimes our interests change or we develop the courage to pursue something. So I think that’s really important for people to hear. And I’m told that math was also a challenge for you, which isn’t something that a lot of people would imagine for a rocket scientist.
What is your advice on conquering that challenge? Okay. Well, if you take the route that I took, it means you take the same class multiple times. I had to take pre-calculus and calculus both twice, once was in high school. And then once I was in college and there was a little bit of like laziness and senior-itis that kind of went into the calculus.
One of the surprises about the pre-calc, well, I learned by doing this was that establishing the solid foundation is super important. So if you are struggling to overcome math, right, it’s really getting the basics understood. So I could have gone into calculus in college, even though I took pre-calc and calc in high school, I couldn’t go into calc 2 in college.
I could’ve gone into calculus and I decided to back it up and go to pre-calc. Okay. Everything from this point forward is going to be building on these basic principles, this foundation. And if I really have a solid foundation, just like when you’re building a house or a building, that’s the first thing is you need to make sure what you’re building on is solid and going to support you forever.
So I decided to take precalculus again to make sure that I really knew what I was talking about because at this point, I knew that I was going to have to put in a little bit more academic work to try and achieve that dream of working for NASA. So to really not take it lightly in the beginning is where it’s, I guess, harder to see the end tangible results or to want to put in the work early on, where we see, Oh, the reward is so far off the earlier that you can start putting in the extra work.
Taking a class again, taking a summer school class. I took geometry over the summer, so that I’d be able to get myself into calculus my senior year of high school, even though I kind of flubbed at the end, my intentions were good in the beginning. But even before that, I struggled with math in, I think it was middle school.
Yeah. I got put in an advanced math class. It was like, Oh, how are you struggling with math? But I got almost kicked out of that class. The teacher called a meeting with my parents. And said, Kevin’s not doing so well here. So we think we’re going to like drop them out of this class. I was earning, I think it’s C, maybe C- and put him back in like the regular one.
And like I fought, no, don’t don’t kick me out, help me overcome these math challenges. And in that area of life, what I found out was doing the extra work, having a tutor to help me out. I did go and see the teacher, uh, office hours. And anytime there were, there was free. And then the practical examples.
And I think this is probably one of the biggest ones is the practical examples, because we read these math problems or the teacher explains us to this thing, this information to us. And it’s essentially just numbers, sometimes there’s letters. And if you get advanced enough in math, but what’s the practicality to that, we’re going to make it really simple.
If we’re talking, you know, you have 10 M&Ms and you need to. Give your friend two M&Ms. How many M&Ms do you have left? Literally put the M&Ms on the table. Right? Bring them out and then count it to get the visual and practical application nowadays. What we’re running with this COVID-19. So if I have 24 rolls of toilet paper, and my friend needs four rolls of toilet paper, how many rolls of toilet paper?
While I have left to actually put a physical-ness with the numbers, because math is very abstract. That’s kind of one of the things that we see a lot in space for designing these spacecrafts so we can see them, we can touch them, but then we launch them and we can never touch them again, essentially that are going out of lower orbit.
And then they’re going to places where we haven’t physically touched. So it’s trying to also figure out a way to be able to make it catchable as much as possible, I guess, is what I’m getting at. That’s how I, I got through it. And I think that’s really great advice for people because I, I think that probably is why math is difficult.
Cause we hear all the time, especially when we were kids of why we’re actually going to use this in the real world. And I know at least for me that I find the weirdest times where I bust out my algebra skills. It’s like, Oh, I really do need this as an adult. And sometimes it’s things you could just put in a Google, but there’s satisfaction in knowing that you can do it on your own.
And yeah. It sounds like taking summer classes and stuff. If you were really dedicated on getting to work at NASA, it sounds like you had that vision as a kid and you really follow that through. So when you were at NASA and you worked at JPL as a rocket scientist, did you have a particular mission or project that you worked on that you would consider to be your favorite?
Of course. Yeah. Some people can’t pick them, but I do have one. And that would be your Europa lander. So Europa, those of you who don’t know is one of the moons of Jupiter, the fourth largest one, and it has the most potential for life in our Solar System. So we’ve got an mission that’s going to be launching in 2023 called Europa clipper.
And I worked on that in grad school. And then a little bit when I got my job at JPL and then they moved me on to Europa Lander. It’s not a full-fledged mission; NASA asked if we were going to land on the surface sphere through Europa and look for signs of life. How would we do it when we launch, what would it look like?
All of that for the mission. And that was my favorite project because in the beginning of JPL, I was working on an advanced design engineering team where we would get. All the experts in different disciplines in one room at a time for three hours. And we run these design sessions, or we’re trying to go from an idea on a cocktail napkin to our first cut at a spacecraft mask cost data launch date on sourcing determined the feasibility.
What is a rough estimate of what this is going to look like? And that was great. And I was just doing that high level surface stuff, doing estimations. And then with Europa Lander, I really got to dive down into the weeds where the equations that we would use to approximate instead of using like two variables now had 20, right.
I’m actually working on something, designing down to like the nuts and bolts that the watts, the milliwatts that are needed, um, to squeeze out of some of our components to be able to. Power our spacecraft effectively with smaller solar arrays or heck our solar rays are too big and we can’t even fit inside the launch fairing.
Okay. Well, we need to figure out a way to shrink those, shrink our components, getting down in those weeds to really understand the intricacies of the design was so fascinating. And then to pair that with Europa, the astrobiological potential did amazing science switch. That flipped for me a few years earlier.
Was remarkable. And the team of people was so much fun. It was just a group of friends working together to get a design. We would butt heads at times, but then you come out of it and be like, okay, cool. You want to go get a coffee? It was just such a great environment. So is your childhood dream sounds like you absolutely loved it.
Loved what you were doing, who you were working with. So that, that leads me to the question I have to ask. Why did you leave NASA? Okay. It seems like a pretty weird thing to do. How am I crazy? Because Kevin, right now you’re smiling. You’re laughing. You’re telling us all of these amazing things, but you’re not there anymore.
Exactly. So let me explain the craziness to you. Well, while I was working at JPL, I became the most active member of the Speaker’s Bureau. So Speaker’s Bureau is that people submit requests to NASA. Hey, we want someone to come and speak at our school, our library, our organization, our event, anything from preschoolers, all the way up to international symposiums and retirees.
I started doing that because after my first NASA internship in 20…, is it 2013? My or 2012. One of those two years. Anyways, my fifth-grade teacher asked me to come back and speak to her class about working at NASA as an intern, and to see like little kids, eyes light up and have them ask questions, gave me the most surreal feeling.
I, I just so hard to describe just putting myself back in there. It’s like being surrounded by a glowing warmth of light, fun, love, awesomeness. So I started to try and satisfy all of these. Speaking of requests as possible. After, after work during lunch, I would just go out and I would speak at libraries and schools like crazy international symposiums as well.
And I fell in love with that feeling of being able to be on the front lines, inspiring, educating, exposing people to the wonders of space and its importance to us here on Earth. Making eye contact with them was so much more rewarding to me. That point then being in a cubicle and being part of this team, design the spacecraft and eventually it’ll launch and inspire millions of people.
I see that there’s more of a need for increasing awareness for space. I also, like I identified a crisis in mind, as I’m speaking to these people were just talking to friends, meeting new people. There are so many individuals that have no idea what is going on with space exploration or space Technology in general.
So from a combination of really loving this new way of communicating, of being able to share my passion for space with others, coupling that with, I see a present need that. We need more people who can communicate effectively to the public. Okay. Let me try and do this at NASA. And I tried to do being a full-time NASA, rocket scientist, and then being my space educator self.
And it got to a point where I needed to pick one. Right. It was just too many things on my plate. And if I wanted to truly reach as many people as possible, do it in my way, I had to leave NASA to really focus on educating others. And, you know, you said that it’s hard to explain the look in the kids’ eyes when you went back to your grade school.
And it’s funny because I actually had a similar moment about a year ago, because at the Space Foundation we have the Discovery Center. We have this museum and we have a lot of field trips come in. And my elementary school actually came in one day, that I had gone to, and a lot of those kids, it’s not a very wealthy school.
And. No, a lot of them are, may not end up doing really cool jobs, like working at NASA sort of a thing. And so when I got the chance, I begged the teachers and said, can I please come talk to them? And it was great. Cause I didn’t even do anything as cool as being a rocket scientist. You know, I didn’t work for NASA.
You know, I got to tell them the cool things I do for the Space Foundation and I’ve gotten to meet astronauts and there is, there’s something so special when you see these kids are like, Oh, I could do this. You were just like me at one time. And you know, I know that some people can’t necessarily relate to that, but I can definitely vouch for you that that is, it’s a very special feeling.
There just makes you feel so good that you maybe even change someone’s life and that’s gargantuan really? Yeah. It’s like that warm and cozy feeling. And then where it comes back around in circles, circle it back to you where I don’t know if you’ve had this kid reaches back out to me years later because of you.
I am majoring in mechanical engineering or biology or something of that, or just simple as because of you. I fell in love with space and I watch a lot of space documentaries. I don’t have the desire to design the spaceships, but I love telling people about, like, we got over 70 moons on Jupiter that is so rewarding to be able to impact people in the future.
That’s so important and to impact them in the right way. One of the things I like to kind of reference is I’m not Kardashians, right? Saying like, look at me, I’m pretty like some of the Kardashians. I think it’s Kim is doing some amazing things. I will say that, but our society tends to glorify a lot of reality TV stars or what I call trash TV and things that don’t allow us to advance.
As a society as a world, as a globe together forward in sustainability for future generations. I think there’s too much of that. And that’s why I’m trying to be another voice of, I guess, reason crazy reality, trash TV. So one the, well, and it sounds like you definitely are. Cause I know that in the fall of 2019, just a few months ago you had a book come out called To NASA and Beyond.
And there’s a lot in the book that people may not believe. What do you think is the biggest surprise of your story? That’s in the book? Ooh. The biggest surprise. There’s a lot of surprises in there for a quick glance. Like, you know, A lot of applications that are rejected just for NASA internships and rejected from Georgia Tech and rejected from JPL moving to, you know, thousands, hundreds of thousands of miles away.
I think probably the biggest surprise would be the Georgia Tech story. To recap that shortly for people, you don’t have to buy the book. I’ll tell you right here is that I decided that Georgia Tech was the only place I wanted to go for grad school. This was based upon a conversation with professor Bobby Braun, who was the Dean?
I think it was, or the director of the space systems design laboratory, but didn’t end up actually getting into that one. But he showed me that the Georgia Tech aerospace design labs were the only labs in the country that did what they did in terms of. Systems engineering systems of system. So we got complex puzzles that are part of even bigger complex puzzles.
And I was like, okay, Georgia Tech is the place I want to go. There’s no other lab in this country. I’ve been looking around and talking to people that does this, that connects with NASA JPL, specifically the way that they do. And I got rejected from Georgia Tech, um, an undergraduate applying for grad school at Georgia Tech.
And I get this email that says, we regret to inform you … that just makes your heart fall down off on the floor and then roll down the stairs. And I was like, okay, crap, Georgia. That’s the only place I want to go. That’s my next stepping stone to get to NASA JPL. What the heck am I supposed to do?
So I kind of self for a little bit, you know, like have 20 minutes, the motivation switch turned and I’m like, okay, I gotta figure out how I can make this right. So I emailed, uh, The guy who sent me the rejection letter and was like, Hey, I apologize that I wasn’t able to exceed your expectations and become one of the people that was admitted into the school, where if you may point out application weaknesses, where I can improve for future efforts, and it turned into an email conversation back and forth for about three weeks.
I was probably the most annoying email recipient he could have ever had sent me like two emails for every one email. He sent me like, Hey, just following up, making sure we’re still having this conversation. And it turned out at the end of it. My last email to him and was, is it too early to apply for next semester or next year to apply to grad school?
They’ll guarantee that, you know, there’s a spot available. And he actually called me, cause my signature had my phone number in every single email that I sent him. So all of a sudden I’m on the phone with the Dean of Admissions from Georgia Tech. And he’s like, okay, Kevin, and that’s emails. Like I’ve heard you, I understand your passion.
I will. Let you into this school, I will create a spot for you open up the enrollment so that you are able to come in as one more graduate student. Oh my gosh. Like I never expected that portion. It was closed. He said there was no way. And then within three weeks of really showing my grit to him, he was like, okay, sure.
I didn’t think, I didn’t think it was like, it was actually possible. It wasn’t like I’m going to Georgia Tech that year after that, or the semester after that it’s no, this original one I actually got accepted into now looking at it. Yeah. I submit applications to NASA for internships, you know, and eventually maybe you get one, cause you can submit 50 a year.
You can apply to jobs continuously. But to actually get the thing I was rejected for the exact time and place was heck, I’m still surprised at how did that happen? Well, it’s awesome that it did and great that it did for you. Cool. Thanks. I appreciate that. I apologize to the Dean of Admissions, I should say.
So, hey, uh, doctor, you know, I just wanted to say, I’m sorry, but thank you. Hopefully that. No, one’s reading my story and sending you emails saying, can I get into, yeah.
Now we mentioned it the very beginning and you and I talked a little bit about this before we started the podcast day that you are also an American Ninja Warrior, which I was telling you, I’m a huge fan of the show and you were known as the Fit Rocket Scientist. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience on the show and just doing that as an activity on its own because that’s pretty intensive.
Yeah. American Ninja Warrior is its own beast. How I got into it is that I was high school soccer player and I did not make my college soccer team. And then I fell in love with the weight room because I needed to fill this like fitness hole.
And then I became a bodybuilder and just a meathead for years, you know, just picking up weights and put them down. And then I felt too much like an ornament. Cool. I look good. I am on stage competing, but I don’t feel like a tool. I don’t feel like an athlete anymore. I want to use my body as a tool to do things.
So I’m like, okay. Let’s uh, let’s just apply to American Ninja Warrior. Three Spartan races, tough Mudder, all missing. Oh, I see what happens. That’s enough. Right? I’m going to make this happen. That kills me. So I did that and I got accepted. So for American Ninja Warrior, it’s not like you have to do auditions in term of competition.
It’s not like a combine where like, okay, come here. Let me see if you are. Able to climb this wall or jump over this thing. You submit a three-minute video that introduces who you are, tells your story, what you would, why do you want to be an American Ninja warrior? And then showcase some training could be part core, could be climbing, could be calisthenics, weightlifting, whatever it may be.
So I started off with, Hey, my name’s Kevin J. DeBruin known as the Fit Rocket Scientist. It’s a flexing. And I’m like, yep. I am a rocket scientist at NASA JPL here. It was in the background. And I think that’s what hooked him. Okay. We got this guy who looks like a bodybuilder who works for NASA as a rocket scientist, and wants to try his, his efforts on a ninja course.
Let’s make that happen. I can tell you it is so different than anything I’ve ever done as a good bodybuilder. I’m doing pull-ups and pull down kind of cable machine that can do 30 pull-ups great. So the salmon ladder, that’s the one with a bar and you’re jumping upwards, like a ladder. Hmm. That was so hard.
I, I can do 30 pull-ups I couldn’t do two of those, maybe even one my first time. Cause it’s so different. It’s not just strength. There’s technique. Mental awareness to go into it. You’re solving a puzzle with every single obstacle. It’s not just, let’s see if I can move this really heavy thing in a linear direction.
This is the puzzle, many different ways to do it. Everyone does it differently. How are you going to do it? Still to this day. It’s the biggest, probably a mental game that I have is that you’re continually failing, pulling off the obstacles, falling on the wall, falling on the pads, falling in the water.
It’s like, get up, go again, get up, go again. So it’s almost like my journey into NASA has not been my journey in American Ninja Warrior. You’re getting rejected from obstacles. I’m like, no, I’m coming back. I’m going to do it well, and it is if anyone’s ever watched it, I mean, for someone to get to the very end of a course, It’s usually not very simple.
It is kind of a good analogy, I guess like you were saying that the obstacles are like the schools are NASA, all the things you’ve tried to get into and you’ve just persevered and keep pushing through and doing it. Yeah. So I still got some work to do cause I haven’t hit a buzzer yet. Right. So I haven’t been failing.
So I competed on seasons 9 and 10. The first episode of season 9 is on YouTube or wherever it is, you can go and. Watch me get halfway through the course. And then I fall. And th the worst thing is the commentary. So you got bad eyes, man. Akbar badge would be the middle of giving, like rocket puns.
There’s like science space puns. And then the last thing they say before they move to the next person is Akbar saying the rocket scientist should have been smarter. They’re like, Oh, what a stab? Kicking the wall. I’m down. That is little rough. So I’m still training right now. I’m testing obstacles for the show.
And what that means is throughout the year, they create those new obstacles that we see. So I’ll be invited to the ninja warehouse. It sounds really cool, but they got a bunch of obstacles set up and okay, Kevin, try this one and let’s, let’s see how that is because I’m doing that right now. I’m not allowed to compete on the show.
I would have to stop doing that to allow myself to compete. People might not know is that we don’t know what the course is. Those obstacles until we show up to the course, we don’t get to touch them. We don’t get to see them. And we film at night. So if you’ve noticed it’s always dark. So it looks kind of cool, but we filmed from 5:00 PM to 5:00 AM.
So you’re running this Ninja course at two in the morning meeting to be at your athletic best, which is really difficult as well. So we show up, they show us the obstacles, talk us through the course. We get to ask questions. You don’t get to touch it. You only get to try it once. And then it’s showtime. So until I, I stopped getting special access to play on the obstacles beforehand.
Then I can go back to competing. But I think I need, uh, another year of playing to improve my skills to really build that foundation. Right. So I can go up the warp I’ll hit the buzzer. Well, we will definitely be rooting for you to hit a buzzer one day. No, thank you. It will happen now with that. I mean, choosing the name of the fit, rocket scientists, your, that kind of helps get.
The message out that, again, being a rocket scientist, you don’t have to look a certain way because there is a stereotype of the glasses and maybe someone who’s maybe not as in good of shape doing these sorts of things, you know, you’re always working on these messages and working as a space educator and.
In your role as a space educator, you say that you like to make learning creative and entertaining. So we’re talking about subjects that can be like we talked about earlier, really abstract. So how do you accomplish making this learning creative and entertaining? I’m literally trying to bring space down to Earth.
And not like throw a lasso around the Moon and pull it, but to like whose thing was here on Earth to create physical demonstrations that are tangible. So one of my key go-to is I have an inflatable solar system that I use all the time. Yeah. We can show pictures of Mars, of Earth, of the son of Jupiter. Like when we’re out talking to kids, But if I got this inflatable solar system in front of me, I throw the planets out to the kids and they bump them around like beach ball.
It’s like, I held Mars, you know, with that smile and like telling mom afterwards when they go home. Um, so get the tangible demonstrations in it. A lot of stuff that I see that’s out there now and how I think, um, I’ve tried to separate myself or be different. And because this is what I truly believe in is.
Not being just that talking head, not just so by talking head. I mean, it’s just me talking into a screen with maybe sitting in a chair and there’s not movement and it’s just my head and talking, and then there’s so much voiceovers with animations and stuff. And yes, I do do some of that, but what I really want is.
Physicality things that are tangible. So I taught about Enceladus. She’s one of the moons of Saturn that has plumes coming out of it. They’re like geysers of water leaking out from the ocean that create the e-brake, et cetera. And I’ve got a model of a moon and I’ve got a can of blue, silly string. And I’ve got the silly string behind the moon and shoot it out, you know, so we can actually see geysers coming out and they can do this at home.
Anybody from, from kids to adults can do it all together instead of just showing an animation that a data visualization individual at NASA or some other university put together and you can see that on the screen. Cool. That’s still too deep. You still can’t touch it. You can’t do it yourself. You’re just observing.
So almost everything I do, I want to be able to. Allow it to be using resources that anyone can get the phases of the Moon with Oreos. So you can make your own phases of the Moon with Oreos. I’ve got, I goes that I use a lot to show how to put things together. So there’s like that creative side. And then now I have props.
I can point this stuff. I can literally take my Saturn V, break it apart as leaving the surface of my inflatable Earth to show the different stages. And then it turns into the lunar lander. I’ve got a bigger version of that one. I fly that around the Moon. It lands on the Moon sent module can come off, trying to use as little animations, green screens, talking head, really making it a fun, physical involving, tangible, relatable way for people to see it.
And then if they were in my studio, or if I’m doing this as a live presentation, they can come up and touch it. I think that’s one of the great things about science class. A lot is the teachers who do demonstrations, whether it’s the vinegar baking soda volcano, or some of the lighting flames up on fire in big water jugs, or just burning a strip of magnesium.
And it burns like super bright white things that you can see and potentially do yourself. And I’m having a ton of fun doing it. I’m hoping that other people are having fun. It’s enjoyable for me to do Legos. We’re all still kids, no matter how old we get, I don’t think that we ever really lose that sense of love for creativity.
Even if we’re bike bogged down by society, it’s still in there. And I’m trying to pull that out of everybody. It’s so great that you talk about these hands-on things, because our educators at the Space Foundation are huge on the hands-on part. Cause again, it’s abstract and we don’t all learn the same way.
So if we can add those different elements in, and I remember when I first started one day I went downstairs and they were like, Hey, you want to mess with some Play-Doh it’s like, why would I want to play with Play-Doh? Who wouldn’t want to do that? And. Yeah, they do this great experiment and demonstration with the kids where they check thing a Play-Doh and they have to break it up and it ends up being as close as possible to the scale of the planets.
And the first time I watched it, I, when we see again, like you’re talking about having the inflatable, planets and stuff, and we see these pictures, it looks like all the planets are pretty close and they’re all about the same size. But when you actually put them into perspective, some of them are really tiny and some of them aren’t good.
But it’s not until we actually have that thing we can touch and feel to actually understand that there’s a big difference in the sizes and really how far apart they are. We’re not as close knit as it looks like on a computer screen or in a textbook. Yeah, exactly. So I do want to ask you this too.
What piece of advice would you offer to anyone who wants to get into the space industry? What piece of advice it would be? I’ll give two. One of them is motivation based. So why do you want to get into the space industry? Because it is literally out of this world, it’s going to be difficult if it’s not going to be completely easy.
So you need to have, have a why. So for me, it was October Sky watching that movie as a, as a kid is the reason that I went into space. So when things got tough, I would rewatch that movie or read the book that it’s written on. So I haven’t why. Because you’re going to want to give up at times, not going to sugar, coat it and say, you never will.
There’s so many times where I want to say, you know, F this and just do something easier. So needing the, the why, and then the second part would be networking connections. So for me, I chose Georgia Tech because it had the lab that did what it did connected to NASA JPL. They had a lot of research going on together.
So, if you want to get into the space industry, you’re going to need to get an education. Um, Elon Musk does say you don’t need to have a degree to get hired at SpaceX. I will say it helps. And you do need to have an education of sorts. So whether that’s a formal education with master’s degrees, PhDs, or online certifications.
So I work with a company called Open X Education and we provide online technical skill certifications that get people hired into the aerospace industry, Raytheon and SpaceX and the Air Force. So to find the type of education that has the connection to where you want to go, because there’s so many people trying to get in.
And that’s what took me so long to get into JPL was that yes, I had my, my Georgia Tech connection. I had some research there, but they needed to see. My work. So the best way that they knew that I was going to be a reliable hire and employee was me needing to be an intern first. So they could actually see it.
If you can get that network, whether it’s just knowing someone volunteering some time, do some research projects, needing the experience, tied to the facility or whatever location you want is going to be the best thing. It puts you in the best position to go forward. Now there’s so much more that needs to go into that, but that’s a good starting part platform.
And then you’ve got to figure out the rest of yourself because that’s what truly allows you to get in is figuring out the unknown variables after that. That’s really great advice. Again, both pieces of it for anyone who’s looking, whether, again, like we said earlier, if you’re young or maybe not so young, that those are both great things, that’ll help get you there.
Well, I do want to just say thank you so much, Kevin, it’s been an absolute delight to have you on the show and a lot of fun chatting with you today. Yeah, this was awesome. Colleen, thank you very much. I really enjoyed it. Absolutely. Well, this will conclude this episode of the Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast.
Keep your eyes and ears open for more Space4U episodes by checking out our social media outlets on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And of course our website at www.spacefoundation.org on all of these outlets and more it’s our goal to inspire, educate connect, and advocate for the space community because at the Space Foundation we will always have space for you. Thank you for listening.
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