Spotlight on Our Students: Summer with Virgin Galactic

Jacob Kintz in a priceless moment with cardboard Richard Branson.

“Everyone has a unique story, and I’m glad the University Scholars Program teaches me how to learn from people who have experiences very different from my own.”

In this edition of Spotlight on Our Students, we spoke with Jacob Kintz, a Junior from Apex, North Carolina majoring in Aerospace Engineering, about his internship with Virgin Galactic. He’s stationed in Mojave, California surrounded by desert and a team of dedicated engineers trying to make the dream of civilian space travel a reality. He’s reaching for the stars and having a great time doing it.

USP: Jacob, for an aerospace engineer, this internship sounds like a dream come true. What inspired you to pursue this internship?

Driving through Mojave.

JK: Mojave (and the surrounding High Desert) is home to decades of aviation and space history. This part of the country is where the sound barrier was broken, some of the world’s most advanced aircraft were developed, and many other firsts and records were made. I’ve known about Virgin Galactic (VG) since they launched the world’s first commercial manned spacecraft, SpaceShipOne, in 2004 right here in Mojave. They have a vision of “democratizing access to space for the benefit of life on Earth,” eventually allowing ordinary citizens to become astronauts, and that’s a vision I wholeheartedly support.

USP: What are you hoping to learn from your time on site?

JK: This is my first internship in the space industry as well as my first time at a small, fast-paced company like VG. I’m trying to absorb as much as I can about this field as I prepare to join when my education is complete. In particular, it still amazes me this organization is undertaking something only 3 nations in the world have accomplished. I’m always paying attention to find out what parts and people have to come together to make something like SpaceShipTwo fly.

USP: It sounds like you’re learning a lot about where you fit into that field as well. Do you have a main project you’re working on there?

Spaceship Two in flight.

JK: Getting SpaceShipTwo (the latest ship) to space! The company is preparing to conduct its first manned flights which will go higher than 100 km, officially leaving Earth’s atmosphere. We’ve already had one gliding flight test since I arrived in May and I think everyone is eager to start getting passengers their astronaut wings. I work on the Flight Test Instrumentation team – we manage sensors and recording systems on both the carrier aircraft and spaceship, as well as communications with mission control. During a recent mission, I was able to wear a headset at a station in the control room – one of my wildest life moments for sure.

USP: That’s wild! It’s amazing when things come together like that and you get to see your work in action. What is a typical day like for you at VG?

JK: My team isn’t in one place for long as they prepare sensor systems for test flights, troubleshoot radios and antennas in mission control, test new recording hardware in the electrical lab, or attend various briefings for missions. I’ve been lucky enough to do some work inside the carrier “mothership”, WhiteKnightTwo, and SpaceShipTwo itself, helping with pre-flight tasks and electrical systems. I’ve heard being able to sit in the cockpit and power on the spaceship will eventually seem like just another day at work – I don’t think I’m quite there yet!

USP: Every little step gets you closer to the real dream – which is successful space flight. Very cool. How would you say your time in the University Scholars Program helped prepare you for this internship?

JK: I joined USP to make sure I don’t become so isolated in my own interests that I forget how many different types of people are out in the world. I have met co-workers from so many different backgrounds in just 4 weeks on the job at VG. I work next to students fresh out of grad school, locals who have worked in the area their whole lives, enlisted military who went back to college, contractors who moved from other countries…everyone has a unique story, and I’m glad USP teaches me how to learn from people who have experiences very different from my own.

USP: What would you tell other students who want to prepare for an internship of this magnitude?

JK: I wish I had an interesting story about how I ended up at VG but I went through online applications like so many other interns. Keep applying, cold calling, and getting turned down by recruiters (speaking from experience), because you only need one break to get started towards your passion. Dr. Temple Grandin spoke on campus in January about successful people who had to “make their own door” to their dreams because the established route for most people wasn’t open to them. If that is your case, find the courage and support to make your own luck – you may discover a better path than everyone else.

USP: Yes! Temple Grandin is a smart lady – good reference. What is a great bit of advice you’ve received about life?

JK: I still ask for a lot of advice in my life! I think the bit shared by Temple Grandin I mentioned earlier has really stuck with me for the past few months. Also, my parents have a framed copy of the poem “Desiderata” at home. The whole thing is relevant to busy college students and it ends with the lines “Whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” I think that’s some powerful advice.

USP: Oh that poem is a perfect bit of advice. I’m glad you included it. Anything else you’d like to tell us about your time out West?

JK: Actually yes, Cookout is far superior to In-N-Out. Sorry West Coast.

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