NASA’s Orion program anticipates human travel to the “Red Planet” by around 2035. And when that happens, Carl Hansen hopes to be on the ground control team.
“That’s my life goal: to be on the flight operations team for the first manned mission to Mars,” says Hansen, a 2016 graduate in astronautical engineering.
An Avrum Gudelsky scholarship recipient, he has furthered his aspirations both at school and in his career by gaining a wealth of practical experience in systems engineering. While at Capitol, he was part of Project HERMES, which is developing a system that uses the internet protocol to control high-altitude payloads. He participated in the RockOn! and ROCKSAT-X programs, helping to build the Hermes payload for a rocket launch provided by NASA.
Currently, he works for Honeywell as a console engineer, assisting with the Aqua and Aura satellites on the Earth Observing System mission. “We have twelve hour shifts, either day or night. Typically I’ll come in and monitor the spacecraft passes, make sure that the spacecraft downlinks its science data properly. If there’s an issue, either with the ground stations or the spacecraft, you have to troubleshoot.”
Internships while completing his degree helped Hansen make a smooth transition from school to job. “I’ve been working in control centers for three years now, while also studying at Capitol,” he notes. “My career and my education have gone hand in hand. There have been times when I’ve learned things at school that I’ve been able to apply immediately at work, and times when I’ve learned things there that I could then take with me into my classes at Capitol. I’ve learned simultaneously both here and there.”
“I’d like to become a systems engineer on a manned mission. Towards the future I’m going to be looking at the International Space Station, and potentially the Orion program. Systems engineering for human space flight is really, really cool,” Hansen said.
It’s an interest that first burgeoned during his teen years, when Hansen and his friends built Lego spaceships and imagined what it would like to be inside one, flying towards the stars. Later he had the experience of encountering a highly realistic space environment created by a Newtonian space flight simulator. By his junior year in high school he knew he wanted to become a space flight engineer; the only question was which school would provide the best opportunities.
He considered several options in the region, but a visit to the Capitol campus made the decision easy.
“After touring Capitol and seeing the Space Operations Institute when it was acting as a backup control center for the TRMM and TOMS-EP missions, I realized that Capitol really had it together,” he recalls. (While both TRMM and TOMS have ended, the SOI continues as the home of a newly launched Space Flight Operations Training Center).
While many schools offer broad programs that cover aerospace as well as astronautical engineering, Capitol’s program is focused specifically on astronautical – allowing students to delve deeper and acquire expertise more quickly.
“Many of my fellow team members say they had to take courses that aren’t really related to what they are planning to do. At Capitol, by contrast, we had more in-depth classes that get you ahead in terms of space flight operations and space systems engineering. Some of those highly specialized classes, such as spacecraft dynamics and control, spaceflight communications, or orbital mechanics, are considered by many to be graduate-level classes. Being able to take them as an undergraduate put me farther long in my education.” Hansen said.
“They really train you well to become a space systems engineer,” he said.