When Collin Boots was a Redwood Valley High School student at the turn of the century, he got a foretaste of his future; “I had a brief foray into Rocket Club my senior year when they needed help building a launch ignition system — It was a fun, if not very successful endeavor,” he stated last week....
When Collin Boots was a Redwood Valley High School student at the turn of the century, he got a foretaste of his future.
"I had a brief foray into Rocket Club my senior year when they needed help building a launch ignition system. It was a fun, if not very successful endeavor," he stated last week.
Flash forward a decade. Boots is currently living in Marina Del Ray, California, designing hardware for Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), the largest privately-held spacecraft company on Earth.
How did Boots get from RVHS to SpaceX?
"I started out wanting to be a pilot. It seems I was always interested in leaving the ground," he said.
"Then in Redwood Valley one year we had to do a project exploring various career paths that interested us, and as it happens I discovered I was more interested in flight than I was in the actual job of pilot.
"It's a high stress job with lousy hours, constant jet lag, and many years of training before you have a decent job.
"I was in a bit of a limbo until I discovered engineering as a possibility. I had always loved taking things apart and figuring out how they worked, and I had plenty of opportunities to do that.
By ninth grade I had discovered programming and started building simple circuitry. I was hooked, and never really thought of anything other than electrical engineering since then."
After earning a degree in electrical engineering, computer science, and mathematics, Boots was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania's Masters of Robotics program, which he plans to complete next year.
How did he get involved with spaceship design?
"I was attending a career fair at Penn looking for a job with my eyes set on Boeing. They were doing interesting research in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and I wanted in.
When I got there I discovered the line was wrapped around the corner and moving very slowly. After a quick calculation I estimated I would reach the front of the line two hours after the end of the fair, so I decided to look for other options.
SpaceX had a booth and were doing 5 minute screening interviews in line," said Boots.
SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. Under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA, SpaceX will fly at least 10 more cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, for a total of at least 12 —and in the near future, SpaceX will carry crew as well.
Boots said, "I had heard of SpaceX before when they were first testing out the Falcon 9 and again when they successfully docked with the International Space Station earlier that year so it peaked my interest. I got in line and ended up in Las Angeles the next summer."
Today Boots develops hardware that controls the vehicles, combining electrical design, firmware design and testing.
"Occasionally I'll get an assignment from another engineer that needs a wire harness built or a lab test run, but usually I'm left to my own projects," Boots said.
"Every once and a while, I sit down to lunch with an astronaut. One of the perks of the job."
What is a day on the job designing real-life spaceships like?
"A typical day is taking the 45 minute intern shuttle ride to SpaceX around 8 a.m. Typically I'm there until 7:30 p.m., but some nights I've taken the last shuttle at 10:30 p.m..
"We work hard, but they take good care of us at the factory so there's not much incentive to leave. Sometimes I think the only reason any of us want to go home at the end of the day is the complete (and intentional) lack of beds at work.
Nevertheless, when he's out of the office, what is life like in Las Angeles?
"Not having a car makes things difficult, but I've still managed to visit the Space Shuttle Endeavor, see Bernadette Peters in outdoor concert at the Arboretum, and various other activities with my fellow interns.
"Last week we competed in the aerospace games (an event where a bunch of aerospace companies from the LA area get together on the beach for some friendly competition). SpaceX took home the trophy this year."
And Boots' ultimate form of relaxation? Designing more aircraft, of course.
When I'm not out and about, I'm usually home on my computer, working on a new quad-rotor design I've been developing as a hobby," he said.