This is the first in an upcoming series of profiles of employees here at Spaceflight. We hope to showcase some of the great people who make it possible to get our customers into space! Meet Adam Wuerl, Program Manager at Spaceflight.
Q: Describe what you do for Spaceflight.
A: I interned at Spaceflight (then Andrews Space) while finishing my B.S. in Aerospace at the University of Washington. I stayed at Andrews for two years after graduation doing trajectory analysis and launch vehicle conceptual design. I worked the next eight years at Lockheed Martin on various satellite and missile defense programs, during which I earned a Masters in Aerospace Engineering at Stanford. Since returning to Spaceflight four years ago I’ve had numerous roles: I’ve been a program manager and chief systems engineer for our Earth-imaging micro-satellite, a principle investigator for small-satellite component research projects and SBIR contracts, and the Systems Engineering functional manager.
Q: What interests you about space?
A: My interest is space goes back as far as I have memories. My parents bought me an old encyclopedia at a garage sale (this was before the Internet), and I remember staying up at night reading the entry on “space.” I fell in love with science fiction at the same time — authors like Heinlein, Clark, Azimov, and Philip K. Dick. Each had their own take on the future, and even the dystopian stories still felt optimistic: We’re still here and have invented all these amazing things! We’ve used them for nefarious purposes of course, because humanity, but we’re living in the future, so there’s that!
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working here?
A: I like to hang out with my wife and kids (two boys, 5 and 8), golf, read, watch the Seahawks, and play board and video games. A friend and I have been working on our own space-themed board game for several years and are trying to get it published in our free time. I also always have at least a couple play-by-email games of Civilization going on, which when played a turn a day, can go on for years.
Q: Star Wars, Star Trek or The Martian?
A: Star Wars is the reason I work in the space industry. I was still a toddler when Jedi came out, but I’ve been told I was riveted to the front of the chair. The earliest birthday I remember involved receiving some speeder bike action figures, and I had Star Wars sheets on my bed, just as my son does now. Star Trek came later, but I also have a soft spot for Babylon 5 because of how they depicted space battle: quiet and with realistic dynamics. The Martian — book and movie — was delightful. There’s a signed copy somewhere in the house.
Q: If you were to mentor someone who wanted to do what you do, what advice would you give them?
A: That depends on the age:
- If you’re not in college yet, take as much math and science as the school offers and take the AP exams. If the kids from Stand and Deliver can learn calculus then you can too. And it may not be obvious in high school, but physics and chemistry come in handy all the time.
- If you’re in college: go to class, do your homework, and take advantage of office hours. If you’re going to take on student debt you owe it to future you to learn enough to have a chance to pay it off. I had only three hours of class time a day my Freshman year. You can work hard at school and still have more free time then you ever will once you have a job and/or a family.
- Get a Masters, but don’t pay for it yourself. Lots of people do fine without one, but I learned a ton and have never regretted it. If you’re burned out after under-grad take a break, or even get a degree while you work. Just don’t stop learning.
- Find a mentor. My first was Dana Andrews, Andrews Space’s first CTO. He taught me a ton and I have great respect for him. Find one, then another, and another. Smart people like to teach younger smart people. That said, I’ve also learned a ton from people much younger than me, so be open to anyone who knows what they’re talking about.
- Timeless advice: “Have strong opinions, weakly held“.
Q: Would you be interested in going to space – or Mars or another planet someday? Why or why not?
A: Not on a one-way trip. I like it here. I’d visit perhaps, if I thought it was no more risky than flying to Tampa.
Q: What’s one thing that most people at Spaceflight don’t know about you.
A: I deeply dislike PowerPoint. Oh wait, everyone knows that about me. How about this? I met Gene Krantz when I worked at NASA (played by Ed Harris in Apollo 13) then watched the movie on the big screen in the actual Apollo 13 Mission Control room. Surreal.