Column: From LAUSD Student All the Way to JPL and to Mars

You may have seen the story about self missionNASA is preparing to launch a spacecraft that will travel to an asteroid in search of information that may unlock some of the mysteries of the universe.

But I will tell you a different journey story. It’s about how Luis Dominguez, the son of immigrants from Mexico and Honduras, traveled from southern Los Angeles to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he helped build the Psyche spacecraft.

Dominguez, 34, is the oldest of three children born to Luis and Cecilia Dominguez. His father was an auto mechanic, and Louis would accompany him to his father’s shop when he could, occasionally interfering. His mother was a housekeeper for a while, and as a boy, Dominguez worked with her too.

 

He began his education at Vermont Elementary School in Los Angeles Unified, followed by Audubon Middle School, where, by his account, he was not the best student on the block. But when a seventh grader brought a book to class about the trip, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.

“I was impressed, and I said, ‘Okay, I want to work on airplanes,'” Dominguez said. He went to Westchester High School, which had an air magnet.

He was up at five in the morning, Dominguez told me, and the bus ride to school took about an hour. Knowing what he wanted to do with his life made him more focused, and his GPA took off like a rocket. On a career day on campus, a visiting professor at California State advised him to consider majoring in mechanical engineering in college rather than aerospace, as it would give him more job options.

“Louis walked in the door and it was like, ‘What can I do?'” Hi, let me help you with that.

David Groel, JPL engineer

And so he did – at Cal Poly Pomona. Dominguez lived in the house to save money. He went to college every day, spent a few hours in a convenience store and sandwich shop in his spare time, and also worked as a gardener and helped in his father’s auto shop in Englewood.

“In my freshman year, we had a career fair and JPL was there, and frankly, I didn’t even know what JPL was. I was giving out my resume,” Dominguez, who had a 3.98 GPA at the time and was shopping for an internship, said. Self for everyone only. “I got a call back very quickly and I was like, ‘Who is JPL? I looked it up on the internet and thought, Oh, this is NASA’s Space Center. This is so cool.’”

In the fall of 2007, Dominguez was hired as a part-time student intern at JPL Engineer David Groelwho led the team that assembled the Mars Science Laboratory for Curiosity mission. Many of the trainees are passive or introverted, Gruel said. Not Dominguez.

 

Lewis walked in the door and it was like, ‘Hey, what can I do? Hi, let me help you with that. You could tell he was excited to be where he was and wanted to contribute, and was open and willing to take on whatever task we asked him to do,” Growell said. “So his first experience at JPL was seeing a rover under construction, which was going to land on the surface of Mars.”

When the training was over, and Dominguez graduated from Cal Poly Pomona, his heart was ready to work at JPL. He remembers Growell saying, “Just hire me. I’ll mop the floors. I’ll do anything.”

Gruel saw Dominguez evolve as an intern from small assignments to providing technical support to Curiosity engineers.

“I can say that Lewis is going to be tough and JPL would definitely benefit from bringing him in to work as a full-time engineer,” Groell said.

Dominguez went to JPL immediately after graduating from college and has been there ever since. Was deputy electrical integration and lead test on perseverance of Mars The rover launched in 2020. He’s now the lead electrical engineer on the Psyche satellite, overseeing a team of five, and will be in Florida when Psyche launches in August from Cape Canaveral.

There are dozens of engineers and support staff on the Psyche team. Basically, Dominguez and his crew build the vehicle’s electronic guts. They take ingredients manufactured in JPL and around the world, put everything together and put them to the test.

“In short, we build the spacecraft, take it into an environment where we shake it up, bake it, and then blast a batch of high-pressure air on it to create the acoustic environment you get during launch,” Dominguez said.

 

The craft will travel through space for years, and is scheduled to reach its destination – an asteroid known as 16 Psyche – in 2026. asteroid mining Dominguez said he considers a future possibility, but is more curious about the fundamental aspect of the mission.

“The cool thing about it is that it’s the largest metallic asteroid that we know about, and all the data points to the fact that it’s probably the core of a failed planet,” Dominguez said. “We can get a better understanding of what the Earth’s core might look like, something we’ve never been able to do.”

At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Monday, Dominguez and others were putting the final touches on the spacecraft. On a media day, I came across Brian Boone, Director of the Assembly, Testing and Launching Operations Unit.

“Lewis was a key player,” Boone said. “I’ve seen quite a few people do the same amount of work whether you ask them to or not. He just participated, and he’s always excited to be here.”

Dominguez—who was engaged to a woman he met years ago when they were both working at McDonald’s—will soon be moving with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team to Florida in the summer. He gave up his lease on his downtown Los Angeles apartment and temporarily moved into his brown stucco home where he spent most of his youth in the southwestern neighborhood of USC.

When I visited him there, his parents were away and visiting his family in Mexico and Honduras, but I spoke to them on the phone.

His mother Cecilia said he was always a smart kid, and he worked hard.

“I had no doubts that he would succeed,” said his father, who is proud of his three sons. One of Lewis’ younger brothers is a medical assistant and the other a paralegal intent on becoming a lawyer.

Dominguez told me he developed another passion during his time at JPL.

“One of the things that I am most excited about is the opportunity to do community outreach and talk to children about the things I do – especially the children where I come from,” he said.

Last fall, Dominguez was the Distinguished motivational speaker In an address that is broadcast to students, faculty, and staff in the California state system. The Cal Polly graduate told his story from the chancellor’s office in Long Beach, noting the focus it took to become a better student in high school. He credited his parents with showing the value of sacrifice and hard work.

“I never thought I would help put two one-ton robots and a helicopter on Mars,” he told his audience, describing himself as a “first-generation college student and proud child of immigrants.”

His advice to every student was to shoot high, take risks, not be afraid of failure, and live life “with courage, curiosity, perseverance and a healthy dose of altruism, because these are the principles that got me where I am today.”

Dominguez – named in 2017 by CNET en Español as one of the 20 Most Influential Latin Languages ​​in Technology – concluded with this:

“Just like the universe, every human being is full of infinite potential and unlimited potential, with genius, no matter their background, no matter what their zip code, no matter their financial circumstances. It is our duty as leaders to find that genius, to kindle it and let it shine, Because at the end of the day, genius is everywhere.”