In middle school, Jorge Chong discovered a book called “Airman” by Eoin Colfer in the Cedar Park Middle School library. Chong had always loved reading and writing, preferring English classes to math and science. He hoped to be an author someday.
But “Airman” introduced him to something new and intriguing: aerospace engineering.
Today, Chong – who attended Cypress Elementary, Deer Creek Elementary, Cedar Park Middle School and graduated from Cedar Park High School – is a NASA engineer working on the upcoming launch of the Orion Spacecraft, part of the Artemis I mission.
“Since I started working at NASA full time about four years ago, this mission coming up is the biggest thing I’ve been a part of,” Chong said. “It felt like it had a lot of weight to it and I wanted to share it with the people who made it possible.”
Chong said that many LISD teachers had a significant impact on him throughout his education. He remembers English assignments broadening his interests and making him more curious about the world. Math and science classes didn’t come quite as easily, but he found them increasingly engaging as he entered high school – and “Airman” sparked a serious interest in the subjects.
“The book inspired me really profoundly, and I was starting to become better at math and science and enjoying those subjects a lot more, and my parents said, ‘Well, why don’t you study that as a degree?’” Chong said. “That’s how I entered the world of engineering. It wasn’t a long-term vision or anything, just one thing led to the next.”
And one thing leading to the next led Chong to NASA, where he is playing a significant role in one of NASA’s most ambitious and exciting projects. The Artemis I mission aims to put astronauts back on the moon by 2025 in order to establish a long-term presence there, with the ultimate goal of completing a mission to Mars.
Chong works on the Orion Spacecraft’s navigation systems. Similarly to the way that a GPS works to track a cell phone’s location, the spacecraft has sensors on board that track where the spacecraft is in space. He works on those features, writing software and testing sensors in the lab to prepare for the mission.
When Orion launches, Chong and his team will be in one of NASA’s mission control centers monitoring its navigation system, gathering data and troubleshooting any issues that arise.
“That’s what we’ll be focusing on during the mission and that’s kind of what my day-to-day has involved over the past few years – getting ready for the Orion launch and building some of the technology that we’re going to be working with,” Chong said.
Chong reached out to share his story to express gratitude to his LISD teachers, some of whom he recalls spending hours after class to help him through concepts and lessons that took time to understand. He also hopes to inspire students who are interested in a future in engineering.
“My biggest motivation (in reaching out) was to just thank all the people in LISD. I really enjoyed my time there so much, and I wanted to share this with them because this is really their achievement too – I wanted them to know that,” he said. “I wanted to encourage them and potentially encourage the students who are there currently who are thinking about a future in engineering.”