Column: From LAUSD scholar all the way in which to JPL and to Mars

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You’ll have seen the story in regards to the Psyche mission, during which NASA is getting ready to launch a spacecraft that may journey to an asteroid in quest of data which may unlock a number of the mysteries of the universe.However I’m going to let you know the story of a special 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 along with her, too. Luis Dominguez is staying at his household’s dwelling in Los Angeles earlier than relocating to Florida in the summertime for the launch of the spacecraft. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions) His training started at Vermont Elementary in L.A. Unified, adopted by Audubon Center College, the place, by his account, he wasn’t the very best scholar within the constructing. However when a seventh-grade classmate introduced a ebook 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 College, which had an aerospace magnet.Dominguez informed me he was up at 5 within the morning, and the bus trip to highschool took about an hour. Figuring out 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 faculty quite than aerospace, as a result of it could give him extra work choices.“Luis walked within the door and it was like,” ‘Hey, what can I do? Hey, let me show you how to with that.’ — David Gruel, JPL Engineer And so he did — at Cal Poly Pomona. Dominguez lived at dwelling to economize. He commuted to school every 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 honest and JPL was there, and truthfully, 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 searching for an internship. “I bought a name again fairly shortly and was like, who’s JPL? I appeared it up on the web and thought, oh, that’s the NASA house heart. That is fairly cool.”Within the fall of 2007, Dominguez was assigned as a part-time scholar intern to JPL engineer David Gruel, who led the crew assembling the Mars Science Laboratory for the Curiosity mission. A whole lot of scholar interns are passive or introverted, Gruel mentioned. Not Dominguez. NASA techniques engineer Luis Dominguez is mirrored in foil protecting the spacecraft that may probe the Psyche asteroid.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Occasions) “Luis walked within the door and it was like, ‘Hey, what can I do? Hey, let me show you how to with that.’ You may 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 completed, 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. Basically, Dominguez and his crew construct the digital guts of the craft. They take elements manufactured at JPL and all over the world, string every thing 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. Luis Dominguez encourages college students to shoot excessive, take dangers, be unafraid to fail, and to reside life with “braveness, curiosity, tenacity and a wholesome dose of altruism.”(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions) The craft will journey via house for years, scheduled to reach at its vacation spot — an asteroid generally known as 16 Psyche — in 2026. Asteroid mining is taken into account a future risk, Dominguez mentioned, however he’s extra curious in regards to the major facet of the mission.“The cool factor about it’s that it’s the most important metallic asteroid we find out about, and all knowledge level to the truth that it’s possible the core of a failed planet,” mentioned Dominguez. “We will 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 had 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 folks put in as a lot work whether or not you ask them to or not. He’s simply all in, and he’s at all times excited to be right here.”Dominguez — who’s engaged to a girl 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 time. He gave up the lease on his downtown L.A. residence and moved briefly into the brown stucco dwelling the place he spent a lot of his youth, within the neighborhood southwest of USC.Once I visited him there, his dad and mom had been away, visiting household in Mexico and Honduras, however I bought to talk to them by telephone.He was at all times 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 pleased with all three sons. One among 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 discuss to youngsters in regards to the stuff I do — particularly youngsters 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, school and workers within the Cal State system. The Cal Poly alum informed his story from the chancellor’s workplace in Lengthy Seashore, noting the main focus it took for him to develop into a greater scholar in highschool. He credited his dad and mom with displaying 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 faculty scholar and a proud little one of immigrants.”His recommendation to each scholar was to shoot excessive, take dangers, be unafraid to fail, and to reside life with “braveness, curiosity, tenacity and a wholesome dose of altruism, as a result of these are the tenets that bought me the place I’m at present.”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 potentialities, with genius, regardless of their background, regardless of their ZIP Code, regardless of their monetary circumstance. It’s incumbent upon us as leaders to search 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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