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Charles Whetsel
Spacecraft Systems Engineer
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

What I Like About my Job

I enjoy my job a lot because, in addition to all of the different kinds of technology it exposes me to, it also requires a lot of teamwork. A spacecraft itself (as well as many of the subsystems of which it is made) is so complicated that it is almost impossible for a single person to be able to understand everything that is required to complete the mission. I spend a large part of my time using both technical and communication skills (translating something from one technical specialist into something another specialist can understand). Sometimes, when you realize how complicated someone else's design really is, it can be a very humbling experience!


I've always been fascinated by the space program. My earliest memories, when I was three or four years old, were of when my parents would let my older sister and me stay up late to watch the Apollo mission launches and landings. Growing up in rural Tennessee, neither of my parents had a technical background (although my father and I loved to build model airplanes), but they really worked hard to instill in my sister and me a love of reading and learning.

My Career Journey

When I left Tennessee to go to college in Boston, I knew that I wanted to get a job working in the space program. As an undergraduate in college, I studied both engineering and planetary astronomy. In graduate school, I specialized in control system engineering. When I look back on which classes I enjoyed the most and which ones helped prepare for my job, the best ones were team design projects - where the class as a whole is given a project to solve. In these classes, one had to realize quickly that the way to get the best grade is not to compete against the rest of the class, but rather to cooperate and take advantage of everyone's strengths so that the final solution is the best possible. These classes also emphasized the most important skill that any engineer can posses - problem solving. If you are interested in technology just for its own sake, then you should become a researcher or a scientist. The mark of a true engineer is someone who can take all of these neat new tricks of technology and piece them together into something that someone can use to solve a real-life problem that's facing them.

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