As a seventh-grade LAUSD pupil, his dream took flight, all the best way to JPL and to Mars

2022-04-13 17:30:11

You’ll have seen the story concerning the Psyche mission, through which NASA is getting ready to launch a spacecraft that can journey to an asteroid looking for data which may unlock among the mysteries of the universe.

However I’m going to let you know the story of a distinct journey. It’s about how Luis Dominguez, the son of immigrants from Mexico and Honduras, traveled from South Los Angeles to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the place he helped construct the Psyche spacecraft.

Dominguez, 34, is the eldest of three boys born to Luis and Cecilia Dominguez. His dad is an auto mechanic, and Luis tagged alongside to his dad’s store when he may, pitching in at instances. His mother was a housekeeper for some time, and as a boy, Dominguez went on jobs together with her, too.

Dominguez, Techniques Engineer at JPL, labored on Mars missions and is in-charge of assembling, testing, and launching the Psyche spacecraft that’s quickly going to be launched to check an asteroid. Dominguez is seen at his childhood residence the place he used to hung out planting bushes and choose fruits in Los Angeles , CA.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Occasions)

His training started at Vermont Elementary in L.A. Unified, adopted by Audubon Center Faculty, the place, by his account, he wasn’t the perfect pupil within the constructing. However when a seventh-grade classmate introduced a e-book to class about flight, he knew what he wished to do together with his life.

“I used to be fascinated, and I mentioned, ‘OK, I wish to work on airplanes,’ ” Dominguez mentioned. He went on to Westchester Excessive Faculty, which had an aerospace magnet.

Dominguez informed me he was up at 5 within the morning, and the bus experience to high school took about an hour. Realizing what he wished to do together with his life made him extra targeted, and his GPA shot up like a missile. On a campus profession day, a visiting Cal State professor suggested him to think about majoring in mechanical engineering in school quite than aerospace, as a result of it will give him extra work choices.

“Luis walked within the door and it was like,” ‘Hey, what can I do? Hey, let me enable you to with that.’

— David Gruel, JPL Engineer

And so he did — at Cal Poly Pomona. Dominguez lived at residence to economize. He commuted to school day by day, put in some hours at a comfort retailer and a sandwich store in his spare time, additionally labored as a gardener and helped out at his dad’s auto store in Inglewood.

“In my junior 12 months we had a profession truthful and JPL was there, and actually, I didn’t even know what JPL was. I used to be simply giving my resume to all people,” mentioned Dominguez, who had a 3.98 GPA on the time, and was looking for an internship. “I obtained a name again fairly shortly and was like, who’s JPL? I regarded it up on the web and thought, oh, that’s the NASA house middle. That is fairly cool.”

Within the fall of 2007, Dominguez was assigned as a part-time pupil intern to JPL engineer David Gruel, who led the crew assembling the Mars Science Laboratory for the Curiosity mission. A variety of pupil interns are passive or introverted, Gruel mentioned. Not Dominguez.

NASA systems engineer Luis Dominguez is a team leader working on the Psyche spacecraft

NASA methods engineer Luis Dominguez is a crew chief engaged on the Psyche spacecraft that can research a steel wealthy asteroid situated between Mars and Jupiter Dominguez is mirrored in foil overlaying the spacecraft.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Occasions)

“Luis walked within the door and it was like, ‘Hey, what can I do? Hey, let me enable you to with that.’ You would inform he was excited to be the place he was and wished to contribute, and he was open and prepared to doing no matter process we requested him to do,” Gruel mentioned. “So his first JPL expertise was seeing a rover being constructed, which was going to land on the floor of Mars.”

When the internship was accomplished, and Dominguez graduated from Cal Poly Pomona, he had his coronary heart set on a profession at JPL. He remembers telling Gruel, “Simply rent me. I’ll mop the flooring. I’ll do something.”

Gruel had seen Dominguez evolve as an intern from small duties to doing tech help for Curiosity engineers.

“I may inform that Luis was going to be a catch and that JPL would undoubtedly profit from bringing him on as a full-time engineer,” Gruel mentioned.

Dominguez went to JPL straight out of faculty and has been there since. He was deputy electrical integration and take a look at lead on the Mars Perseverance rover that launched in 2020. He’s now the lead electrical engineer on the Psyche satellite tv for pc, overseeing a crew of 5, and he’ll be in Florida when Psyche launches in August from Cape Canaveral.

Dozens of engineers and help workers are on the Psyche crew. Primarily, Dominguez and his crew construct the digital guts of the craft. They take parts manufactured at JPL and all over the world, string all the things collectively and put it to the take a look at.

“In a nutshell, we construct the spacecraft, we take it into an atmosphere the place we shake it, we bake it, after which blow a bunch of extremely pressurized air at it to create the acoustic atmosphere you get throughout launch,” mentioned Dominguez.

Dominguez, at his childhood home where he used to spent time planting trees and pick fruits in Los Angeles

Dominguez, at his childhood residence the place he used to hung out planting bushes and choose fruits in Los Angeles , CA.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Occasions)

The craft will journey by way of house for years, scheduled to reach at its vacation spot — an asteroid often called 16 Psyche — in 2026. Asteroid mining is taken into account a future risk, Dominguez mentioned, however he’s extra curious concerning the major side of the mission.

“The cool factor about it’s that it’s the largest metallic asteroid we learn about, and all information level to the truth that it’s seemingly the core of a failed planet,” mentioned Dominguez. “We are able to get a greater understanding of what the core of Earth would possibly seem like, which is one thing we’ve by no means been capable of do.”

At JPL on Monday, Dominguez and others have been placing the ending touches on the spacecraft. At media day, I ran into Brian Bone, supervisor of the meeting, take a look at and launch operations unit.

“Luis has been a key participant,” Bone mentioned. “I’ve seen few individuals put in as a lot work whether or not you ask them to or not. He’s simply all in, and he’s all the time excited to be right here.”

Dominguez — who’s engaged to a lady he met years in the past after they each labored at a McDonald’s — will quickly transfer with the JPL crew to Florida for the summer season. He gave up the lease on his downtown L.A. condo and moved quickly into the brown stucco residence the place he spent a lot of his youth, within the neighborhood southwest of USC.

Once I visited him there, his mother and father have been away, visiting household in Mexico and Honduras, however I obtained to talk to them by cellphone.

He was all the time a sensible child, and he labored exhausting, mentioned his mom, Cecilia.

“I by no means had a doubt that he was going to make it,” mentioned his father, who’s happy with all three sons. Certainly one of Luis’ youthful brothers is a doctor assistant, and the opposite is a authorized assistant intent on turning into a lawyer.

Dominguez informed me that in his time at JPL, he’s developed one other ardour.

“One of many issues that the majority excites me is the chance to do neighborhood outreach and speak to children concerning the stuff I do — particularly children who come from the place I got here from,” he mentioned.

Final fall, Dominguez was the featured motivational speaker in an tackle broadcast to college students, college and workers within the Cal State system. The Cal Poly alum informed his story from the chancellor’s workplace in Lengthy Seaside, noting the main target it took for him to grow to be a greater pupil in highschool. He credited his mother and father with exhibiting him the worth of sacrifice and exhausting work.

“I by no means thought I’d assist put two 1-ton robots and a helicopter on Mars,” he informed his viewers, calling himself a “first-generation school pupil and a proud youngster of immigrants.”

His recommendation to each pupil was to shoot excessive, take dangers, be unafraid to fail, and to dwell life with “braveness, curiosity, tenacity and a wholesome dose of altruism, as a result of these are the tenets that obtained me the place I’m as we speak.”

Dominguez — named in 2017 by CNET en Español as one of many 20 most influential Latinos in expertise — closed with this:

“Identical to the universe, each human being is full of infinite capabilities and infinite prospects, with genius, regardless of their background, regardless of their ZIP Code, regardless of their monetary circumstance. It’s incumbent upon us as leaders to seek out that genius, to stoke it and let it shine, as a result of on the finish of the day, genius is in all places.”

steve.lopez@latimes.com


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