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Column: From LAUSD student all the way to JPL and to Mars

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You could have seen the story in regards to the Psyche mission, through which NASA is making ready to launch a spacecraft that can journey to an asteroid seeking info which may unlock among the mysteries of the universe.

However I’m going to inform you the story of a unique 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 occasions. His mother was a housekeeper for some time, and as a boy, Dominguez went on jobs together with her, too.

Dominguez, Systems Engineer at JPL

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 frolicked planting timber and decide fruits in Los Angeles , CA.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Instances)

His schooling started at Vermont Elementary in L.A. Unified, adopted by Audubon Center Faculty, the place, by his account, he wasn’t the most effective scholar within the constructing. However when a seventh-grade classmate introduced a e-book to class about flight, he knew what he needed 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 instructed me he was up at 5 within the morning, and the bus journey to highschool took about an hour. Figuring out what he needed to do together with his life made him extra centered, and his GPA shot up like a missile. On a campus profession day, a visiting Cal State professor suggested him to contemplate majoring in mechanical engineering in school reasonably 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 aid you with that.’

— David Gruel, JPL Engineer

And so he did — at Cal Poly Pomona. Dominguez lived at residence to save cash. He commuted to varsity each 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 actually, I didn’t even know what JPL was. I used to be simply giving my resume to everyone,” mentioned Dominguez, who had a 3.98 GPA on the time, and was purchasing for an internship. “I bought a name again fairly shortly and was like, who’s JPL? I seemed 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 staff assembling the Mars Science Laboratory for the Curiosity mission. Numerous scholar interns are passive or introverted, Gruel mentioned. Not Dominguez.

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

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

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Instances)

“Luis walked within the door and it was like, ‘Hey, what can I do? Hey, let me aid you with that.’ You would inform he was excited to be the place he was and needed to contribute, and he was open and keen to doing no matter job 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 performed, 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 assist 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 staff of 5, and he’ll be in Florida when Psyche launches in August from Cape Canaveral.

Dozens of engineers and assist employees are on the Psyche staff. 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 pieces collectively and put it to the take a look at.

“In a nutshell, we construct the spacecraft, we take it into an setting the place we shake it, we bake it, after which blow a bunch of extremely pressurized air at it to create the acoustic setting 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 frolicked planting timber and decide fruits in Los Angeles , CA.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Instances)

The craft will journey by means 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 chance, Dominguez mentioned, however he’s extra curious in regards to the main side of the mission.

“The cool factor about it’s that it’s the largest metallic asteroid we find out about, and all knowledge level to the truth that it’s probably the core of a failed planet,” mentioned Dominguez. “We will get a greater understanding of what the core of Earth would possibly appear 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 all the time 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 staff to Florida for the summer season. He gave up the lease on his downtown L.A. residence 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 had been away, visiting household in Mexico and Honduras, however I bought to talk to them by telephone.

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 pleased with all three sons. One in all Luis’ youthful brothers is a doctor assistant, and the opposite is a authorized assistant intent on changing into a lawyer.

Dominguez instructed 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 children in regards to 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 deal with broadcast to college students, school and employees within the Cal State system. The Cal Poly alum instructed his story from the chancellor’s workplace in Lengthy Seaside, noting the main target it took for him to develop into a greater scholar in highschool. He credited his mother and father 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 instructed his viewers, calling himself a “first-generation school scholar and a proud youngster of immigrants.”

His recommendation to each scholar 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 bought 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:

“Similar to the universe, each human being is crammed with 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.”

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