Shonte Tucker
Shonte standing in a cleanroom holding a wrench.


John Muir High School | Pasadena, CA
UC San Diego
B.S. Mechanical Engineering
North Carolina A&T State University
M.S. Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in Thermal Sciences

Where are you from?

I am from Altadena, California, near Pasadena.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.

As a child l attended 4-H camp, and while there I remember looking at the Moon and the constellations.

By the fifth grade my first long-term goal was set – I was on a mission to become a mechanical engineer and work at JPL.
- Shonte Tucker

How did you end up working in the space program?

My mother has been with Lockheed Martin for over 45 years. When I was growing up, my mom talked about the amazing aircraft designed and built by Lockheed, and she brought home pictures, mugs, and other things touting the amazing technology they developed there. Given that exposure (or perhaps indoctrination?) at home, coupled with a tour of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), my fate was sealed early! By the fifth 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 mentors and 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 that to heart and have been very involved in STEM outreach ever since.

What is a Systems Engineer?

Systems engineers work with engineers, scientists, and other individuals to ensure a system-wide view is considered in the decision-making process from the beginning to the end of a mission. Systems engineers keep an eye on the big picture, and help the various areas of a project understand the impact their decisions have on other areas. Systems engineers also help individuals and teams understand each other’s needs so they can work together more effectively, and make the best use of shared resources (mass, power, testing venues, etc.).

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.

The launch of the Dawn spacecraft on Sept. 27, 2007, was by far my favorite moment in my career. I had the honor of being the thermal mission operations team lead for the 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 checkout period presented some challenges, but those challenges were met, and the spacecraft fulfilled its mission. The Dawn spacecraft was retired in 2018.

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

My path to systems engineering began with a career in thermal engineering. Working in a discipline area that supported hardware design, build, integration, test, and mission operations gave me a very solid problem-solving foundation that aids me in my work as a systems engineer. So my advice would be to get work experience in a discipline area. You can go into systems engineering directly, but there is certainly great value in having depth in a discipline.

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 as you can, and find ways to integrate what you are learning into your playtime (ex. GoldieBlox, Smart Circuits), your extra-curricular activities (ex. FIRST Lego League, FIRST Robotics), and start or keep practicing computer programming (ex. Scratch, Python, Java).

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy hanging out with my family and friends, watching football and women’s college softball.