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Alumnus Van Treuren Helps Space X Take Historical Flight
August 6, 2012
By Dale Long, Director of News Services
Jeff Van Treuren is helping America's space program forge new
frontiers as a Test Director for Space Exploration Technologies
Corp., or SpaceX, the first private company to launch an unmanned
spacecraft into orbit and have it dock with the International Space
The 2010 mechanical engineering alumnus was among the anxious
SpaceX staff members at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
before dawn on May 22 for the successful launch of the Falcon 9
rocket that carried a Dragon spacecraft into orbit. Three days
later, Dragon delivered supplies to the International Space
Station, and on May 31 completed this challenging technical feat by
splashing down safely in the Pacific Ocean.
"I continue to be awed by the enormity of what we have done,"
states Van Treuren, who was a member of the team responsible for
ensuring the Falcon 9's nine engines were ready for launch.
It took a lot of testing before the rocket made its maiden
voyage. Shortly after joining the SpaceX team, Van Treuren was
given the responsibility of Test Conductor and Vehicle Controller
for stage engine testing. He ensured the proper execution of test
operations and preparing the test stand, controlled various
components on the vehicle through software and assisted with
maintenance of the rocket's complicated avionics electronics
The testing didn't stop there for Van Treuren. The rocket's
first launch attempt on May 19 was aborted a half second before
liftoff. Computer software systems caught a flaw that could have
caused a potential problem. The launch team quickly diagnosed the
problem and made the necessary repairs that same day. Then, the
rocket eventually made its historic flight at 3:44 a.m. on May
"I got to watch the rocket fly!" Van Treuren proudly stated. "It
was a lot of hard work, but once you see the rocket that you put so
much work into lift off the pad, it was all worthwhile."
Now, as Test Director, he is more directly involved with flight
hardware, ensuring that engines are ready for test fires, reviewing
test data, determining if engines are ready for launch and
coordinating work with other engineers.
The retirement of America's space shuttle fleet has caused NASA
to rely on private companies, like SpaceX (with about 1,800
employees) to develop the next generation of spacecraft that could
ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Van
Treuren and SpaceX engineers are planning for a manned test flight
by 2015. There are other new designs that will make Falcon 9
a fully reusable rocket, and a proposed Falcon Heavy rocket could
be the most powerful rocket in the world.
"SpaceX's CEO Elon Musk likes to remind us that we are pushing
the bounds of what is possible and ushering in a new era for
commercial spaceflight," says Van Treuren.
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other
things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,
because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of
our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are
willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which
we intend to win, and the others, too."
- President John F. Kennedy