Contact this office:

NEWS: Alumni

< Back to Alumni
< Back to all News

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 Station.

         Jeff Van Treuren
  Jeff Van Treuren

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 system.

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 22.

"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