Named after past Grand Alpha Neil Hospers (UCLA ’45 and Cornell ’48), the Neil Hospers Outstanding Undergraduate Award is given annually to the undergraduate brother who best displays Brother Hospers fraternal and life accomplishments.  Since its inception in 1982, the winner must exhibit not only fraternal leadership, but community and campus involvement and scholastic excellence.  This year, The Maltese Cross is honoring those who have received this prestigious award in the past 30 years.

One such brother, who won the award, is Jason Tanenbaum (IIT ’06).  Brother Tanenbaum chatted with us about his experience working for Space X, a space transport company headquartered in Hawthorne, California.

MC: What inspired you to become a rocket scientist?

Jason: I first became interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 and seeing how the NASA mission control team was able to come together, solve a really difficult problem, and bring home the Apollo 13 astronauts. I couldn’t imagine working on something more exciting and challenging than space exploration. That’s what really sparked my interest in space and becoming an aerospace engineer.

MC: What is a typical day at SpaceX like?

Jason: One of my favorite things about being a part of SpaceX is that every day brings something different. Over the last two and a half years, I’ve been fortunate to be able to work hands-on with our spacecraft—from design, integration, and testing of the vehicle through launch and real-time operations. Designing and building a spacecraft to berth with the International Space Station (ISS) involves a lot of coordination with NASA on both the vehicle design and testing to ensure that we meet the safety requirements NASA has for visiting vehicles. For me, that’s meant working with NASA to show we meet all of their requirements, coordinating the joint testing we do in conjunction with NASA, planning the overall integration and testing needed to get Dragon ready for flight, and then actually performing the testing and hardware integration on the spacecraft. There are days when I’m in meetings with NASA in the morning, writing and testing ground software we use to operate the spacecraft in the afternoon, and running a test on the spacecraft or participating in a mission simulation in the evening.

MC: Could you describe what projects you are currently working on at SpaceX?

Jason: When I applied to SpaceX, I was interested in working on Dragon. I was brought on to help lead the verification and integration activities between SpaceX and NASA, which was a good fit with my previous experience doing similar work with NASA on Orion. Now that we’ve had our first flight to the ISS, our focus for Dragon moves from development to production and making all of our operations more efficient. With the NASA contract, we will upgrade our cargo Dragon vehicle to carry NASA astronauts to the ISS, which is what we had in mind when designing Dragon. For our crewed Dragon vehicle, I’m working on the development of the next-generation space suits astronauts will need for the trip to the ISS.

MC: What are some of the greatest challenges of your position?

Jason: That’s a tough question; almost every day brings a different challenge. We’ve worked really closely with NASA on the development of Dragon and have learned a lot during that close partnership. Jason:We’re constantly working to meet NASA’s requirements, and often, that involves proposing new approaches to solve a problem.  Working this way has ultimately yielded some great results; the partnership has not only helped us develop a better spacecraft, but it’s also caused NASA to consider new ways to approach problems.

MC: As a dedicated member of the Alpha Epsilon Chapter, how has your life been impacted by Phi Kappa Sigma and winning the Neil Hospers Award in 2005?

Jason: Being a part of Phi Kappa Sigma was really an important part of my time in college, and helped prepare me for the challenges after school – both at home and at work. In addition to making friends I’ll have for the rest of my life, I learned a lot about how to work with different groups of people and the importance of good communication in anything you do. I’m really appreciative of all of the great opportunities I had in Phi Kappa Sigma to contribute to the Fraternity, to my Brothers, and my University.