CaSGC Student Follows His Dream

Many students move away from home when they start college. While some move to a new city or state, NASA intern Felipe Valdez moved to a new country. In 2007, Felipe made the difficult decision to leave his home in Mexico and move to the United States to pursue his education and career. At the time, his life was at a crossroads. He could stay in Mexico, leave school and find a full-time job, or he could move to the U.S. and have the opportunity to continue his education.

After moving to California, Felipe started his sophomore year at River Valley High School in Yuba City, about an hour outside Sacramento. Despite the challenge of integrating into a new culture and learning a new language, Felipe excelled in all his courses and graduated with an excellent GPA.

After high school, Felipe began to work on his bachelor’s degree. He first attended Yuba Community College where, in addition to earning his associate degree and graduating with honors, he received the Extended Opportunity Programs & Services Student Role Model and the Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement Student of the Year awards. He then went on to study at California State University, Sacramento, where he became heavily involved on campus and received several scholarships. During his time at Sacramento State, Felipe was invited to join the Engineering Honor Society, Tau Beta Pi. He also became a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the MESA Engineering Program and the Leader Initiative Program.

After completing his undergraduate degree with honors, Felipe enrolled as a mechanical engineering graduate student at California State University, Sacramento. Here he has had the opportunity to work alongside one of his professors and NASA fellow Dr. Jose Granda on NASA research projects. Granda uses Space Grant funding to fuel NASA student research projects at the university.

Felipe Valdez poses in front of NASA’s Space Exploration Vehicle
Felipe Valdez explored the Mars rock yard at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. Here he poses in front of the Space Exploration Vehicle.

His project with Granda involved designing a control system for the NASA Morpheus space vehicle, a prototype planetary vehicle capable of vertical takeoff and landing. His first objective was to design a control system that allows for the adjustment of the thrust force while maintaining the vehicle’s orientation and position only in the vertical direction.

While completing his internship at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center the following semester, Felipe and two other Sacramento State students worked on the next objective, which is the design of a more advanced control system on Morpheus, the very same vehicle he had worked on during his undergraduate research. He aimed to create a system that would allow the vehicle to perform complex maneuvers autonomously.

“Felipe is the type of intern most mentors desire,” said his NASA mentor, Oscar Murillo.  “He is eager to engage in the research, asking questions to figure out the next step, and willing to learn new skills to accomplish the tasks.”

Because of his guidance toward a NASA internship, Felipe would like to thank Dr. Granda for inspiring him to pursue an education in STEM. “He motivated, pushed and helped me,” says Felipe. “Thanks to him, I got interested in aerospace engineering and the pursuit of higher education.”

Rose Pendley
Johnson Space Center Internship Program
NASA Intern Stories