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Shonte Tucker
Picture of Shonte Tucker
Shonte Tucker
Spacecraft Thermal Engineer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Shonte worked on the European Space Agency's Herschel mission.

Where are you from?
I am from Altadena, Calif. (Altadena is a neighboring city of Pasadena.)

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
As a child l attended 4H camp, and while there I remember looking at the Moon and the constellations.

"Being a young engineer I found
goal-setting and mentorship
to be of tremendous value."
Shonte Wright

How did you end up working in the space program?
My mother has been with Lockheed Martin for 40 years (in October 2011). When I was growing up she would talk about the amazing aircraft designed and built by Lockheed Martin and she would always bring home pictures, mugs and other things touting the amazing technology developed by Lockheed Martin. So given that exposure (or perhaps indoctrination) at home, coupled with tours of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), my fate was sealed early on. By the 5th grade my first long-term goal was set -- I was on a mission to become a mechanical engineer and work at JPL.

Who inspired you?
My mom greatly inspired me, as well as several JPL mentor/tutors I met while in high school. I am so grateful to all of them. Upon graduation, I asked one of the tutors what I could do to repay him and he said, "Do the same thing for someone else." I really took it to heart and have been very involved in the community ever since.

What is a Spacecraft Thermal Engineer?
My role as a spacecraft thermal engineer is to ensure that the spacecraft and its payload remain within safe operating and survival temperature limits. I utilize a host of thermal analysis tools to determine the best approach for maintaining the temperature of the spacecraft and its payload. Spacecraft thermal engineers use temperature sensors, thin film heaters, multi layer insulation (MLI) blankets, and other thermal control technologies like heat pipes to maintain safe operating and survival temperatures for spacecraft and payload components.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.
The launch of the Dawn spacecraft on September 27, 2007 was by far my favorite moment so far in my career. I had the honor of being the thermal mission operations team lead for the Dawn spacecraft. The mission operations role was new to me and the thermal complexity of the spacecraft made the job extremely challenging. The learning curve was steep and the pace of the project was very fast. The launch and check-out period presented some thermal challenges, however they were met and the spacecraft is performing well.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?
My advice is:

  • Take heat transfer and thermodynamics classes as an undergraduate in college
  • In graduate school pick a research project that allows you to exercise basic heat transfer principles
  • Take all graduate courses in heat transfer, thermodynamics and fluid mechanics/dynamics that are offered
  • Join student engineering organizations (Engineering Council, AIAA, ASME, NSBE, SHPE, AISES, SWE, etc.)

What do you do for fun?
I really enjoy hanging out with my 2-year-old daughter Lauren and my husband Mike. I also enjoy playing basketball, going to spinning class and watching football. Go Steelers!!!

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?
Take as many math and science classes in high school as you can.

Last Updated: 7 July 2014


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Last Updated: 7 Jul 2014