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Reaching for the stars: Holbrook co-ops at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Eric HolbrookAs a child, ONU junior mechanical engineering major Eric Holbrook stared at the stars, hoping to someday visit them. Through a recent co-op experience with Caltech/NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Holbrook has come close to living out this childhood dream.

When Holbrook arrived at ONU, he was unsure of where he would end up. At first, he was not planning to participate in a co-op program, but after realizing that the experience would help him in life, he couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.

During his co-op experience from September 2008 to February 2009, Holbrook worked with the Planetary Sample Acquisition and Handling Group. His main focus was the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which is scheduled to launch in 2011.

Joining the group at such an exciting time, Holbrook felt that the co-op experience called on skills he learned through his ONU experience; not only did he use analytical thinking, he was able to implement his ideas.

While working on the MSL, Holbrook worked with a number of varied tests, including hammer tap-tests, structural tests of vibration isolators and vibration “shaker” tests. Again, Holbrook was able to use many concepts he learned at ONU, including experimental methods he had learned in class, to help him understand the tests.

Working with the rover’s drilling and sample transfer platforms, he created tests that would replicate the systems for functionality and verification purposes.

To Holbrook, the most satisfying aspect of working at JPL was the opportunity to see something through from conception to completion. All of the effort and time that went into planning tests, designing the hardware, and setting up and running the tests gave Holbrook great satisfaction.

Eric HolbrookDesigning these tests also helped Holbrook become familiar with concepts such as environmental chambers, electrostatic discharge, clean-room protocols and the safest way to handle hazardous materials.

“Everyone I worked with became a huge contributor to my growth as an engineer,” says Holbrook.

He feels that his time at JPL was very beneficial and would recommend them as a co-op employer.

“It has led me to believe that this facet of engineering is one that I could make a career out of. I have also gained a deeper appreciation for the problem-solving skills and design process that engineers use on a daily basis.”