Family Support and Campus Projects Propel Steven Schmitz's SpaceX Career

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Steven Schmitz Spacex Article

Design/Build/Launch: Experience with Rose-Hulman's Design/Build/Fly team helped prepare alumnus Steven Schmitz for his current role at SpaceX.

Few things compare to the anticipation and excitement of a rocket launch. There's the countdown, the lumbering roar of the engines, and the steady liftoff of the towering space vehicle.

Steven Schmitz has witnessed all of these experiences up close, with the added satisfaction of knowing he helped make them happen for SpaceX, an innovative rocket and spaceflight company headquartered in California.

"I've had the good fortune to travel to our launch sites several times to support launch campaigns, walked out to the rocket, stood on the launch pad with the spotlights beaming up on it… It's just as cool as it sounds," says the 2007 mechanical engineering alumnus who is a senior manager of avionics mechanical engineering at SpaceX.

Schmitz manages the design, analysis, and integration of secondary structure supporting avionics across the company's family of vehicles. He also played a key role in the initial development of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.

"I originally wanted to be an astronaut, like pretty much every kid my age," Schmitz recalls. "As I grew up, I realized that it would be way more fun to build rockets than to fly them, and my dream shifted to becoming an aerospace engineer."

Growing up in Mequon, Wisconsin, Schmitz's family played an important role in his future adventures. His family's trips would purposefully involve stops at museums and other sites of interest to him, such as the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and NASA's Cape Canaveral spaceflight launch center in Florida.

"My father would set aside an hour almost every night with me and we'd go downstairs and build model airplanes and model rockets," Schmitz remembers. His grandfather made another important contribution by giving him a drafting kit. "I think I was only 6 years old at the time, but I spent a ton of time drawing pictures and cutaways of spaceships and airplanes."

Schmitz, who received the Rose-Hulman Alumni Association's Distinguished Young Alumni Award in 2015, also credits his Rose-Hulman education with much of his career success. In addition to his outstanding engineering education, he also learned to juggle complex engineering problems as part of the college's Design/Build/Fly model aircraft competition team.

"Taking the [Design/Build/Fly] project through the design process, from concept to design, to fabrication, and, finally, to test and competition, was a dry run for the work I do at SpaceX," he says.

Schmitz is one of several Rose-Hulman graduates who have landed careers at SpaceX, a company known for its shoot-for-the-stars attitude. He returns periodically to campus to recruit students for full-time and internship positions.

"SpaceX excited me because they weren't messing around," Schmitz says. "They have these massively ambitious goals-such as someday going to Mars-and they are building the hardware necessary to make these goals a reality."