UCF knights land jobs that bring them closer to space

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Jason Dunn weightlessly floats in a zero-gravity simulator. (via Grant Lowery)

Students are no longer looking up at the stars and feeling light-years away, because their dreams of working in space are closer than ever.

Chrishma Singh-Derewa graduated in 2004 with two degrees in space-systems technology and Aerospace Engineering. Jason Dunn earned his bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering in 2007 and went on to complete his master’s in 2009. These two are among a handful of students who are now working for companies they had previously imagined were out of their reach.

Singh-Derewa currently holds a role as the lead systems engineer for the InSight project to Mars. He is also working on theEuropa mission to Jupiter in order to find life below the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

“The gravity of Jupiter heats up the center as the moon orbits, tugging on it and making it hot through continual tides — like our moon does to the water on our planet,” Singh-Derewa said.

He said it is more important to find water than ice, as water denotes life.

Although Singh-Derewa graduated from UCF in 2004 with two degrees, he is currently taking classes in space anthropology to use gaseous emissions on exoplanets to discover whether life would be possible on planets other than Earth.

The project he is working on now, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will lead a mission to Mars in 2016.

Dunn, another UCF graduate, is working to send a 3-D printer to the International Space Station. He cofoundedMade in Space to help fund the mission, and he also works at the Kennedy Space Center.

“That’s what we train them here for,” said Dan Britt, a UCF physics professor. “I’m glad we can help place them in jobs so they end up doing something related to their field.”

Joe Harrington, another physics professor, also encourages his students to pursue careers in space after they graduate. But some don’t choose that path.

“Many of them have jobs they’re happy with, however, or have gone on to grad school,” Harrington said.

There have been plenty of roadblocks along the way to discourage students from achieving their goals of working in space. In 2012, NASA declared it was shutting down the space shuttle program.

It was scheduled to shut down in 2010, when costs for building shuttles and maintaining the fleet overwhelmed the revenue NASA received from the federal government that year, but it continued its services for the next two years.

This has not deterred the strong wills of UCF students who are determined to set foot on another planet someday.

“I am working at my dream job. If I was offered a position as the president, I would still choose to work at JPL. People like me never stop striving for more. I still need to land on another planet,” Singh-Derewa said.

In 2017, NASA promises to launch the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, to enhance the rate of communication relays that ping among satellites, the moon and back to Earth again.

The Mars rover, Curiosity, landed on the Red Planet in 2012 and JPL was the company that organized the mission.

Russia has had affiliated companies land on the moon, but the United States JPL is the only company to land on Mars.

“We just need to gather the will to go pluck the fruit the solar system and universe [have] to offer,” Singh-Derewasaid.

In the face of adversity and the challenge it takes to complete a degree, UCF students have made their dreams a reality by investing the time they have on Earth today to ensure we have a future in space tomorrow.

“The opportunities are here. What matters is whether you are pro-active or reactive about it, whether you are realistic about what’s out there and what you need to do to get what you want, and how much effort you put into it,” Harrington said.

Published in the Central Florida Future.

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