In Fords in Four, we ask an alumnus four questions; he shares insights and stories. In this blog post, Mario Maggio '13, a propulsion test engineer with Intuitive Machines, shares how he first got interested in spaceflight as a career path, and important lessons he learned about becoming a Renaissance Man, during his time at Haverford.
What lessons from Haverford do you carry with you?
The lesson that sticks with me the most is something that everyone from the Head of Lower School Mr. Baroody all the way to Dr. Cox and Dr. Nagl talked about: becoming Renaissance men. Haverford is where I learned to be well-rounded. Haverford really did a fantastic job of mixing academics, athletics, and arts, so that people understood it was important to have a few hobbies and interests. In your personal life, you don’t want to be defined by only your work, and in your professional life, you don’t want to be the guy who only works on one thing – like in my case, only on rockets. Learning that in high school will make it that much easier as you grow up and get interested in even more things. You want to take in as much breadth as you can.
What led you to where you are now in your career path?
I’ve always been interested in space and space travel for as long as I can remember. I remember looking up at stars and reading books about space when I was younger. Sometime in high school, I realized this could be a career. I was first focused on physics, or astrophysics, especially after I took Mr. Maley’s astronomy class. At some point, after I had been accepted to the University of Alabama and was planning to study physics there, I was talking with another student and he told me, “If you want to do research, do physics. If you want to be building things, go into engineering.”
I saw there was a program at Alabama for aerospace engineering and thought that sounded interesting, so I switched my major. Alabama’s aerospace program was mostly airplane and structurally focused, but it gave me a great foundation. Knowing that I wanted to focus on spaceflight, specifically manned spaceflight, I started looking at grad schools. I applied and was accepted to the University of Colorado for their bioastronautics program.
One day in grad school, I heard about this company working on a lunar lander and thought it would be an interesting project to join. Intuitive Machines has been around for about seven years now and the lander is one of their first big steps into commercial space and into developing spaceflight. There’s not going to be a person sitting in it, but it’s an awesome opportunity.
My goals are more about impacting the spaceflight community and really helping with human exploration, as much as I can. Hopefully landing the first humans on Mars, getting a lunar base functioning – working on one of those programs would be incredible. I want to push us as a species a few steps forward.
What’s exciting about your job and working in the aerospace industry?
My job at Intuitive Machines now is specifically working with 3-D printing rockets and testing them –what could be cooler? The rockets are small, about six to seven inches in diameter, and produce about 750 pounds of thrust. We’ve retrofit a flatbed truck to carry all the equipment, and we get to fire a rocket engine every week. We get to do a lot of incredibly cool work. We’re also developing the operational plans for how we’re actually going to send this into orbit. I get to jump into so many things here which are super interesting.
Working in the aerospace industry is great because you get to be a hands-on part of technology on the cutting edge. That could be satellites, lunar landers, the next Orion, or the next Apollo. This vehicle we’re working on now will hopefully be the first commercial lunar lander ever. On top of that, it’ll be the first time anything from the U.S. has landed on the moon in decades. But no matter where you go in this industry, there’s going to be something like that – I have friends working in missile defense, researching the life support of Orion, or building rocket SpaceX. We are all trying to figure out the next steps of human exploration and how we’re going to be transporting things beyond Earth.
What are some of your career ambitions or goals?
I definitely want to stay in aerospace. For the very short term, I want to get this thing to land on the moon – the launch date is currently July 2021. A longer-term ambition is to have the opportunity to be a part of the astronaut corps. I mean, as someone in the aerospace industry, working on spaceflight, it’s kind of in the back of everyone’s minds. But I don’t want to live my life to that goal. My goals are more about impacting the spaceflight community and really helping with human exploration, as much as I can. Hopefully landing the first humans on Mars, getting a lunar base functioning – working on one of those programs would be incredible. I want to push us as a species a few steps forward.