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Joan Melendez Misner is an aerospace integration engineer at NASA. She’s also a science communicator. She tries to get people excited about NASA’s projects and about science. One way she does this is by making videos and posting them on social media. The videos explain her projects and provide information on engineering, science, and geology.
When Melendez Misner was applying to work at NASA, she was rejected 13 times before being accepted. “As clichéd as it sounds,” she says, “never give up. No doesn’t mean ‘never.’ It just means you have to keep going.” She spoke with former TFK Kid Reporter Orlie Weitzman.
What does being an aerospace integration engineer involve?
The simplest way to put what I do is to say that I help write requirements. And I help test those requirements. Let’s say you’re building a house. You talk to a developer and say, “I want the house to be this size; I want this number of rooms.” That’s what I do: I write those requirements for the spacecraft and the rocket, or the launch vehicle. I also do the testing. At the end of the day, what we want to do is separate that spacecraft from the rocket and ensure that it heads to where it’s supposed to go.
Did it take you a long time to learn how to do that?
To get to where I am, I worked in aviation for about eight years. I was a test engineer and a fuels engineer for Naval Air Systems Command. Now I’m kind of doing what I did there, but on a different scale. I used to work on jets and jet engines. Now I’m working on rockets and spacecraft. The principles and the concepts are very similar.
Why did you decide to switch?
In 2019, I got to watch the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket tests. And I got to be a part of the NASA Social, which is a cool thing where NASA brings social-media people in to tour the facilities and talk to engineers. After I watched that launch—and being so close and feeling that vibration—that’s when I was like, “You know what? I think it’s that time.”
And you’re a science communicator. What does that mean?
Engineers need amazing science communicators to break it all down for people who are not in the sciences or the engineering world and want to understand what the mission is about.
If you weren’t in this field, what do you think you might do?
Before I wanted to be an engineer, I wanted to be a doctor. Growing up, I loved [the idea of] having the lab coat, having the stethoscope, being able to monitor people’s hearts. I love helping people. And now I’m helping people in a different way.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.