ISU Graduate Returns to Campus from Dream Job at NASA

AMES, Iowa-When Tomas Gonzalez-Torres graduated from High School in Knoxville, he took a tour of Iowa State University’s Department of Aero Space Engineering.

“Through that campus tour of the Aerospace Department, one of the tour guides mentioned that Iowa State does internships with NASA, I was basically sold at that point,” said Gonzalez -Torres.

He came to ISU, and applied for the NASA internship. On his third try, he was selected. When he graduated from Iowa State, NASA.

“Shortly there after the first elements were launched for the first space station,” said Gonzalez-Torres. “I was there for the entire assembly of the international space station.”

He later managed the NASA EVA program, training astronauts skills they needed for working in a weightless environment, outside of the spacecraft. He even got to train with the astronauts underwater, and in the KC-135. The aircraft was knick-named the “Vomit Comet” as it flew up and down in patterns which produced weightlessness for short periods of time.

He was also named a Flight Director and got to work in Mission Control. He was the guy who had to answer to the line “ Houston, We Have a Problem.” Not for Apollo 13, like the movie, but rather for a mission to work on the Hubble Space Telescope.

“Thinking about the what breaks, what if this doesn't go correctly, how can we respond so be prepared for all those was really fun,” said Gonzalez-Torres.

The ISU Grad absolutely loved working at NASA. But a growing family caused him to accept an offer from Iowa State to return here as a senior lecturer. He is challenging his students to develop a drone which could be used to do some space walking tasks. The drone will not be pitched to NASA, but rather used as a training exercise for students.

Gonzalez-Torres notes that his accomplishments at NASA came, even though he did not possess a masters or doctorate degree.

“There are the book smarts, and then there's also the hard work and determination,” said Gonzalez-Torres. “I have never been the smartest person in the room, but I've always been the hardest working and that I was able to achieve what I did.”

He encourages students who want to work in this field to focus and to go for it. He predicts there will be jobs in NASA for years to come.

“NASA is still looking to going back to the moon going to Mars, is going to visit an asteroid,’ said Gonzalez-Torres. “NASA is alive and well, and continuing to expand the frontiers.