(WACO) – The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launched in early February included a little touch of Texas State Technical College.
TSTC alumni Ryan Allen, 29, of Whitney and Russell Kent, 29, of Robinson were among several SpaceX employees who built the rocket that the private company has called the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
Kent and Allen are welders and have worked at SpaceX for four years. The men are based at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor but also travel to the company’s other facilities to work.
Allen, Kent and other co-workers in McGregor watched SpaceX’s live feed of Falcon Heavy’s launch on Feb. 6 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“It really put it all in perspective in what a group of people can accomplish,” Kent said. “I found myself thinking that this is what it must have been like in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I tell people all the time SpaceX is making space cool again. SpaceX is bringing it back with people dreaming about being an astronaut again and working in the space industry.”
Kent graduated in 2007 from Hubbard High School in Hill County. His family’s Hubbard donut business is where Kent, then a high school student, first learned about TSTC.
“A customer came in one day and told my mom that I should do the welding program in Waco,” he said. “The rest is history. The donut thing was not for me – it is a third-generation business. I love it and it’s my family tradition. But, I wanted to do something different but I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
Kent said he naturally took to welding. He spent a few years doing power plant maintenance before joining SpaceX.
“I strive to be the best at welding that I can be,” Kent said. “I didn’t want to fall in with the crowd. I want to be a little bit different. Don’t be scared to be different.”
Allen is a graduate of Bynum High School in Hill County.
Allen and Kent both graduated from TSTC in 2009 with Associate of Applied Science degrees in Welding Technology from TSTC.
Cody Musia, lead instructor in TSTC’s Welding Technology program in Waco, said Kent and Allen’s work is an example of being able to do welding project work close to home.
“There is a broad variety of things that can be done in welding, including structural or X-ray-quality welding,” Musia said. “There is clean-room welding, which a lot of females are better at. There is also TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding, along with robotics and automation. There are different places in the world for the welders. It’s all about the type of lifestyle you want to live.”
Carson Pearce, TSTC’s statewide transportation division director, said TSTC alumni are working to help advance space travel in other ways.
“We currently have three graduates working with Virgin Galactic on the first commercial spacecraft, Spaceship II,” Pearce said. “SpaceX has hired several graduates as well. Another huge growth area is commercial aviation. The airlines are begging us for pilots, mechanics, dispatchers and avionics technicians. The Federal Aviation Administration is hiring our graduates as they finish their air traffic control classes, and at the FAA Academy, they are almost always in the top 10 percent of the class.”
For more information on SpaceX, go to spacex.com.
For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to tstc.edu.