NASA Intern Helps Test Rocket Engines
August 14, 2012 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
NASA summer interns are a special breed: disciplined, inquisitive, career-oriented. For Jesus Trillo, a junior at The University of Texas at El Paso now interning at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., those descriptors barely do justice to his focus and aspirations.
Born in El Paso and raised in Juárez, Mexico, until he was 15, Trillo studies mechanical engineering at UTEP. This summer, he's working in the Propulsion Systems Department of the Marshall Center's Engineering Directorate, helping NASA engineers disassemble and test components of massive F1 engines -- the most powerful liquid-fueled rocket engine ever built. His work will help NASA pick the right engines and engine configurations to provide extra boosting power to the Space Launch System, the heavy-lift vehicle now being developed to usher in a new era of exploration and discovery beyond Earth orbit.
That's heady work for an aspiring young engineer, but Trillo's professional education won't end at Marshall. As the recipient of a 2012 scholarship from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which helps American undergraduate students pursue semesters of study abroad, he'll continue his engineering studies this fall -- in the United Arab Emirates.
He'll attend the American University of Sharjah, where he also plans to study Middle Eastern culture and learn Arabic. Right now, he doesn't know a soul in the teeming coastal city of Sharjah, and he doesn't yet speak enough Arabic to order a meal.
That's part of the allure, Trillo said.
"I always knew I wanted to study abroad. What excites me most is the idea of experiencing a completely different culture -- different languages, customs, foods, everything," he said.
That means making the most of every minute outside the classroom. "I plan to travel while I'm there, to learn as much as I can," he added.
Fast Learner, Early Achiever
Learning as much as possible has always been Trillo's motto, he said. He fell in love with building things at an early age, fashioning complex structures out of Legos and meticulously assembling model airplanes. If a machine rattled, he was compelled to investigate why; if a mechanism could be opened, he wanted to take it apart, see how it functioned.
"I've always had a passion to find out how things work," he said.
He was in middle school in Juárez when he realized he wanted to be an engineer.
"We went to visit NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston," he said. "I fell in love with engineering and spaceflight. I realized I'd need to maintain a strong math and science background to pursue a career like that."
When Trillo was a sophomore in high school, still adjusting to his family's move to the United States, his parents enrolled him in the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. He finished high school there, graduating with highest honors. It was a challenge at first, he recalled, "but I learned a lot about discipline, leadership and self-reliance. It was one of the best experiences of my life."
It also helped him secure his first internship -- at General Motors in Arlington, Texas -- while he was just a freshman at UTEP. While other students were still acclimating to college life, he was already pursuing his career ambitions.
And he still is. Trillo said his NASA internship has been a welcome and rewarding challenge, and has reaffirmed his desire to work for the space agency full-time after graduation.
His mentor at the Marshall Center, NASA propulsion systems engineer Nick Case, said he's confident Trillo can do just that.
"I've been very impressed with Jesus's passion, his work ethic and his ability to handle very difficult tasks," Case said. "I expect to hear a lot more about him in the near future, and hopefully he'll help lead us in accomplishing the bold goals NASA is pursuing."
What's Trillo's advice for achieving one's career goals? "Be very, very dedicated in school," he said. "Work as hard as you can, and look for every opportunity."
Even ones waiting halfway around the world.